What is Malt Vinegar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Malt vinegar, or alegar, is a type of vinegar that is made by malting barley, turning the barley into a beer, and then allowing the beer to turn into vinegar. The flavor is quite distinctive and very familiar to many fans of fish and chips. In addition to being used as a condiment, this vinegar is also commonly used in chutneys, and it can be added to pickling mixtures. The strong flavor makes malt vinegar less suitable for more mild, delicate sauces and dressings.

Malted barley is the main ingredient in malt vinegar.
Malted barley is the main ingredient in malt vinegar.

When barley is malted, it is soaked in water and allowed to germinate before being roasted to dry it out. The partial germination and roasting converts the natural starch in the barley into a sugar known as maltose. When the malted barley is fermented, the maltose will change into alcohol. The malting process is used to make beers and an assortment of liquors such as whiskey. When the mixture is fermented in a special way, the alcohol turns to vinegar, which has a high concentration of acetic acid, giving it a distinctive tangy taste.

Most malt vinegar is light brown, and it is often aged before sale to allow it to mellow. Fresh vinegar can have a raw, assertive, aggressive taste that is a bit intense, while well handled aged versions are creamy and soft. The acidity pairs with the distinctive malted flavor to create a very unique condiment. Unfortunately for fans, some companies make imitations of this popular vinegar that are dyed with ingredients like caramel; these products may be labeled with the name, but they lack the complex, layered character of true malt vinegar.

Cooks who plan to use malt vinegar for pickling should make sure that the acid content is around 5%. This concentration is ideal for pickling, and it will ensure that the food is safely preserved by the process. Vinegar that is used as a condiment should be the genuine product to provide its trademark malty flavor.

The strong flavor of this vinegar means that it is not usually suitable for the purpose of making herbed or flavored vinegars. At best, a flavored vinegar made with it will simply be overwhelmed by the malt, and at worst the added flavoring could clash with the underlying flavor in a rather unpleasant way.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@feasting – Did you know you can also remove rust with malt vinegar? You just pour pure malt vinegar into a container with whatever is rusted and cover it all the way with the vinegar. Then, you leave it there overnight.

You rinse it off the next day, and if there are any bits of rust remaining, they will flake away easily if you scrape at them. I used malt vinegar on some of my husband's tools that he had left out in the rain for months, and the rust came right off.


I buy malt vinegar for so many reasons. I use it to clean various things in my house, because I hate using harsh chemical cleaners when I can use something natural.

Malt vinegar is great for cleaning out a coffee maker. I just turn it on and let it percolate, and then I pour the vinegar in and let it fill up the pot. I leave it there for an hour, and then I run pure water through the coffee maker until the vinegar scent is gone.

I also use malt vinegar to clean windows. I mix it with water and spray it on the glass, and I wipe the windows down with newspaper because it doesn't leave streaks.


I found out from a friend that there are different shades of malt vinegar. The lightest colored one has a light flavor, and as the color darkens, the flavor intensifies.

My friend who pickles foods with malt vinegar uses the distilled kind for cucumbers and pears, because it is light-colored and won't darken them. She makes salad dressings with the light brown kind. She uses the dark brown vinegar for making chutney.


@anon75395 – I don't know if it moisturizes, but it does remove build-up. It's good for people who use a lot of products like hair spray and mousse.

It also can treat dandruff. I think the acid content probably has something to do with this.

It will smooth out your hair and make it more shiny. So, it can have the appearance of a moisturizer.


does vinegar moisturize the hair?


is there a way to turn normal apple cider vinegar to malt vinegar?


does malt vinegar contain alcohol?


I've been told that vinegar is good to use for hair loss. Any truth to this?

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