Since You Asked: Black vinegar hard to swap out in recipe

I was disappointed in the recent recipe for chicken salad with glass noodles. Because I couldn't find black rice vinegar, I used red-wine vinegar, but the dish was just "blah." Does anyone taste these recipes before they run in the newspaper? I also wondered if tamari was necessary as opposed to regular soy sauce.

— Linda H., via email

Much as we advocate adapting recipes to one's personal tastes, ingredients sometimes shouldn't be swapped. Knowing when is the hard part.

In the case of this salad's black rice vinegar, there really isn't an adequate substitution. Also known as Chinkiang vinegar, it is made from glutinous or sweet rice. Nearly black, it has a deep, malty, almost smoky flavor.

Black rice vinegar is very popular in southern China, where the best is produced. But as there is no fixed recipe, quality varies widely with some containing added sugar, spices, sorghum or caramel color. Gold Plum brand usually is preferred and stocked at Medford's Asia Grocery Market.

Balsamic vinegar is the only option that comes close to imitating black rice vinegar's complexity. Red-wine vinegar is too sharp. Similarly, tamari has a richer flavor than other Japanese soy sauces. Like choosing vegetable broth over chicken stock, if you skimp on distinctly flavored products, you'll have to compensate for them somehow.

That said, we never like hearing that recipes didn't go over well. However, our staff simply can't taste them, given the quantity that goes to print. That's why we choose recipes that were tasted in test kitchens at larger publications and news services. Then we do our best to run a variety in hopes that there's something for everyone.

Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; e-mail to

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