Where to buy pickling vinegar…

This post is getting a lot of action lately, so I’d ask you to bear in mind that it was written in the autumn/winter – it may not be entirely relevant in summer.

Another item from my search engine slush pile – where can I buy malt vinegar for pickling?

Well, assuming the questioner is in the UK, pretty much anywhere. The normal malt vinegar you put on your chips – I prefer Sarson’s or Sainsbury’s – is fine. Just be sure, as those two are, that the strength is 5%. Anything weaker just isn’t strong enough for pickling. And non-brewed condiment, if this abomination is still available, isn’t suitable for pickling. Or for human consumption, for that matter!

At this time of year, supermarkets often have gallon plastic jugs of Sarson’s malt vinegar. It’s labelled as pickling vinegar, but it’s the same stuff as normal, but ready-spiced or not. Currently, neither Tesco nor Sainsbury’s* list any on their websites. These guys sell 1.4litre packs of ready-spiced Sarson’s online.

*Sainsbury’s currently have 2-litre bottles of Sarson’s malt vinegar. Sarson’s pickling vinegars are widely available in the major supermarkets, now (Dec 17), and have been for a while.

Wine and cider vinegar is also good for pickling, especially for foods with a more delicate flavour than onions, and I prefer cider vinegar to wine, it was a greater depth of flavour (unless you opt for a very expensive wine vinegar).

I keep pickled eggs in the fridge, but normal pickles will keep, unopened, in a cool larder or a frost-free shed or garage, or an unheated spare room. Writing this reminded me I had a couple of pickled eggs in the fridge that I’d put up about 4 months ago, and they’re perfectly fine. Obviously, after so long, the vinegar had penetrated deeply, but that’s to be expected. The flavour seems to be rather more mellow, too. In fact, I’d say they’re much nicer now than when they were just a couple of weeks old.

With eggs, as with all pickles, you need to top up the vinegar if it gets below the level of the pickled contents once opened, and they need to be kept tightly capped too. I’d also put opened pickles in the fridge. Other than that, they’re pretty undemanding.


10 thoughts on “Where to buy pickling vinegar…

  1. Ron, pickling should be considered using white vinegar (trust me on this one) since I’ve done lotsa pickled this & that in my lifetime.

    Buy it in bulk, at this place I found doing a search & just arouned the corner from you

    Summer Naturals
    A 5 litre jug for less than a fiver
    Address deleted on safety grounds – see my comment below. If you seek them out online, you’re on your own if you come unstuck.


    • That’s not food-grade vinegar, John, it’s white spirit vinegar for cleaning.

      Personally I use malt vinegar for onions and red cabbage, cider vinegar for eggs, and wine vinegar for descaling the kettle.


  2. Try the chinese supermarket(s) they usually sell the pickling version in bulk.

    Even Tesco’s have the white or malt vinegars for pickling ~17p 500ml

    To each their own on pickling vinegars, my preference is always the white kind not malt

    Ron what price tag are you looking for or is it the price versus the bulk?

    • First you need a Chinese supermarket – about as scarce as hen’s teeth.

      There’s not actually any such thing as pickling vinegar – any naturally-produced vinegar with an acetic acid content of 6% is perfect, lower than that and it’s only OK for chips. In fact, most food-grade vinegars from reputable makers is 6%. Or at least that’s what I though – I’ve just noticed, as I was tossing some on my chips and corned dog, that Sarson’s is now 5% However, Mabey & Collinson’s Perfect Pickle Book is happy with 5% so I am too.

      Tesco’s cheap vinegar – the Value range – is crap, it’s just spirit vinegar with added barley malt, which does not make it malt vinegar, and they don’t declare the acetic acid content (I’ve never seen a vinegar under 5% though). Stick with reputable brands, or with own brand versions that you know to be good – malt vinegar is made by the same process as beer, without the hops, and a bacterial culture is used to convert the alcohol to acetic acid. Just as wine vinegar uses a similar bacterium to convert the alcohol in wine to acetic acid, and cider vinegar uses the same process. Tesco do sell a decent OB malt vinegar but, again, keep quiet about the strength, but it’s probably 5%

      With vinegar, as with almost everything, price is a good indicator of quality – if it’s ultra-cheap, it’s for a reason. The bottom line – if you wouldn’t put it on your chips, or in a vinaigrette, then it’s not good enough for pickling.

      Ron what price tag are you looking for or is it the price versus the bulk?

      No idea what that means, John, I’m afraid. What I’m primarily concerned with is quality – with a product like vinegar, price is rarely an issue if you stay away from the absurdities of balsamic. In pickles of any sort, though, the vinegar is a major flavour component, not just a preservative, so it has to taste good. Basic spirit vinegar offers little beyond an unpleasant acidity. That’s why almost no-one likes pickled eggs these days. Apart from the fact that people are pussies, the eggs almost always come in spirit vinegar, which is simply foul.

      If you find malt too strong in taste, try distilled, which started life as malt and still retains some of its flavour, or a good cider vinegar – Aspall organic is pretty damn good. White wine vinegar is OK for mayo, or mint sauce, maybe, but for pickling it just doesn’t have enough character. You could use wine with a splash of balsamic, I suppose, which would make it taste better, but you really are better with cider. Or, if you want to be flash, sherry vinegar tastes great. A bit expensive for pickling, though.

    • Yeah, I know about Chung Wah, but I’m writing for a readership across 113 countries, so specific, local, information is of value only to a few. Mentioning Sainsbury’s and Tesco is OK for the UK contingent – everyone lives near one or the other, or both, but purely local sources are of less value.

      Er, I don’t have a dilemma. . . Everything’s cool.

      And I too will continue to use white vinegar – it brings the kettle up nice and clean!

  3. Hi I got some pickling onions, and red cabbage, for pickling, and the grocers had a big 2.5 litre of spiced, non brewed condiment for £2.00 but your post has put me off using it now it certainly smells horribly strong…

    I fancy using cider vinegar with the cabbage.. I like the sound of the organic though. I wished I’d have come across your blog before I went to the Grocers!

    • Hi Gina,

      I’m amazed that NBC is still around – there’s really no justification for it.

      During WW2, when vinegar was often unavailable, NBC was introduced as a substitute. When there was no alternative it was just about acceptable, but it’s notorious for eroding tooth enamel, as well as for being simply crap. As I might have already said – too idle to go back and look – it’s just a solution of industrial acetic acid, caramel to colour it, and water. It WILL work with pickles, but I’m pretty sure you won’t enjoy the result!

      Your cabbage and onions will keep for a little while, until you can buy some vinegar, so don’t despair just yet.


    • No idea – I’m pretty sure it’s not made commercially (for culinary purposes). However, diluting 5% vinegar with 4 parts water (distilled or tap, depending on what you want it for), will give you the desired strength. If you don’t want the taste, use distilled or spirit vinegar.

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