Vinegar, from the French word vin aigre ("sour wine") is actually much more appealing than its name suggests.

As the foundation of vinaigrettes and marinades, splashed into a pot of lentil soup, or even tossed with strawberries for an unusual topping for ice cream — its unmistakable tang can embolden and draw flavor from many foods.

For thousands of years, people made their own vinegars by letting an alcoholic liquid sit exposed to the air for a few months, but today we don't need to do any work at all; PCC has a wide assortment of artisanal, delicious vinegars for every use. Here are a few basics:

Apple cider vinegar

Made from the juice of ripe apples, this vinegar adds zing to many foods: salads, cooked veggies and grains, even popcorn! Legend has it that in 400 B.C., Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, used it for its amazing healthful benefits — it's often touted for boosting the immune system, promoting digestion, and helping the body absorb nutrients from the food it's added to.

Try these recipes for Perfect Protein Salad and Fruity Marinade.

Wine vinegars

Wine vinegars (red wine, white wine, Champagne, sherry, etc) are made from grapes. The manufacturer either starts with grape juice and does the alcoholic fermentation, or starts with wine made by another producer. Red wine vinegars have slightly higher acid content than white wine vinegars, so it's best to use them with stronger-tasting foods.

Red wine vinegar is a must in this recipe for Grilled Steak Salad and white wine vinegar adds the special tang in Honey Miso Dressing.

Balsamic vinegar

Balsamic vinegar traditionally is made from boiled down juice from Italian trebbiano grapes, which then is aged for a minimum of 12 years in a series of eight barrels made of various kinds of woods, each contributing a different flavor. The end product is a sweet, dark-brown vinegar that pairs well with sweet and savory dishes alike. Balsamic labeled Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena or di Reggio Emilia (the only two Italian cities that make traditional balsamic) always is made this way.

PCC carries several balsamic vinegars, including traditional brown, golden, and white varieties. Try this recipe for Balsamic Braised Greens with Pine Nuts and Prosciutto.

Rice vinegar

Rice vinegar is made by fermenting rice into crude sake, then again into a vinegar with a gentle flavor that accentuates many Asian foods. It's used in sushi rice, dipping sauces, sweet-and-sour dishes, and as a stir-fry seasoning.

Many rice vinegars contain salt, sugar, or other flavorings, but those available at PCC are pure. One of our favorite ways to use it is in peanut sauce — try this delicious recipe for Soba Noodles with Broccoli and Thai Peanut Sauce.

Distilled white vinegar

Distilled white vinegar is distilled ethanol diluted to below 18 percent alcohol and fermented, producing a very sharp, acidic vinegar. Aside from pickling, it isn't typically used to flavor foods, but it is a wonderful all-purpose household cleaner when mixed with water. Use it to wash floors, scour the sink, or clean any other surface in your kitchen or bathroom.

PCC also carries specialty vinegars, such as raspberry vinegar and Zinfandel vinegar. Be sure to browse our selection next time you visit.

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