Sous vide cooking has become increasingly popular in recent years. This low and slow cooking method leads to incredibly tender and juicy results. But some cooks like to add vinegar to the water bath for extra flavor. Vinegar can impact both the food and the equipment though, so it’s a controversial practice. Here’s a look at the potential benefits and risks of adding vinegar to sous vide water, and how much to use.
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Why Would You Consider Adding Vinegar to Sous Vide Water?
There are a few reasons why cooks advocate adding vinegar to the water when sous vide cooking:
The acetic acid in vinegar can help tenderize meats and add flavor complexity. A splash of vinegar in the water bath can infuse into the food and brighten up the overall taste. This works best with heartier cuts of meat that benefit from tenderizing and infusing.
Vinegar lowers the pH level of the water thanks to its high acidity. This can help prevent bacterial growth during extended sous vide cook times at lower temperatures. However, the pH would need to be reduced significantly to make a major impact.
Prevention of Mineral Buildup
Hard water can leave behind mineral deposits on sous vide equipment over time. The acid in vinegar helps dissolve some of these mineral deposits, preventing or reducing buildup on the immersion circulator.
Can You Add Vinegar to Sous Vide Water?
While some cooks swear by adding vinegar to their sous vide cooks, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Effects on Food Flavor
Only a small amount of vinegar should be used, as too much can make the food taste sour. Start with 1 tablespoon per gallon of water as a guideline. The acetic acid can also start to chemically “cook” delicate proteins and produce a firm, rubbery texture if overused.
Effects on Sous Vide Equipment
The acidity can degrade rubber seals and gaskets over time. Vinegar should only occasionally be used for cleaning, not every cook. Extended exposure can damage parts of the immersion circulator.
Effects on Cooking Time and Temperature
Vinegar may allow you to shave off a little cooking time thanks to the tenderizing effects. But it can also begin to “cook” the food at higher temperatures. Delicate seafood and eggs do best without vinegar at lower bath temperatures.
What Are Some Alternatives to Adding Vinegar to Sous Vide Water?
For those concerned about how vinegar may alter results, there are other ways to impart flavor:
Marinating Food with Vinegar Before Sous Vide Cooking
Letting meats or vegetables marinate in an oil and vinegar mixture will infuse flavor. Rinse off the marinade before vacuum sealing and cooking sous vide.
Adding Vinegar to the Cooking Bag
Place a tablespoon of vinegar in the bag with the food before sealing. The close contact will provide concentrated flavor without affecting the whole water bath.
Using Vinegar-Based Sauces or Glazes After Sous Vide Cooking
Finish off sous vide cooked food with a quick sear and add vinegar-based pan sauces, salad dressing drizzles, or basting glazes. This prevents any weird chemical reactions from the prolonged heat.
Cleaning Your Sous Vide Equipment with Vinegar
To remove mineral buildup without risking damage to your machine, you can occasionally fill your water bath with a diluted vinegar solution to soak the immersion circulator. Use a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water.
Conclusion: Should You Add Vinegar to Sous Vide Water?
The use of vinegar in sous vide is still hotly contested. In small amounts, it may provide some tenderizing and flavor benefits. However, there are risks of creating off-flavors or damaging equipment if overused. For most cooks, the alternatives like marinating or finishing with vinegar are safer options. While an occasional splash of vinegar in the water bath is unlikely to ruin a cook, take care not to over-acidify the water when precision sous vide cooking.