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5 unexpected ways to use vinegar

Pucker up

Vinegar adds essential astringency to salad dressings, balances sauces, and brightens all manner of flavors. And it's much more versatile than just that. We like these more unusual applications for the tangy condiment.

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Make a refreshing drink: Ever see the recipe for Bragg Vinegar Health Drink on the side of your Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar and think, what in the name of Haight-Ashbury? Guzzling vinegar may sound like a recipe for a bellyache, but it's been prized as a revitalizing, thirst-quenching ingredient since ancient Roman times. Folks drink vinegars in Asian countries, too, particularly Thailand (exhibit A: Andy Ricker's Pok Pok Som line.) And surely you've noticed the proliferation of shrubs on hipper cocktail menus. To make your own tart refresher, dilute one part drinking vinegar in four to five ounces of soda water — liquor optional. (You can find drinking vinegars, labeled as such, at specialty foods markets and liquor stores.)

Bake a sweet pie: Think you're not in the market for a slice of vinegar pie? Think again. Yes, this classic pioneer-era dessert contains its namesake ingredient, but the finished product is a sweet (but not cloying) custard creation with a slight tang, encased in a golden, buttery crust. The beauty of this dessert, which dates back to the 1800s, is that you can whip up a satisfying sweet with little more than pantry staples.

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Use up your herbs: Yes, you can dry your extra herbs or make olive oil ice cubes with them, but you can also use them to dress up your vinegar. Start with fresh herbs that have been washed, patted dry, and placed in a glass jar. Cover with a good-quality vinegar and let infuse in a cool, dark place for a minimum of one day and up to a week, until desired flavor is achieved. Strain through cheesecloth into a clean jar and seal with a cork. (Note: Vinegar reacts with metals, so don't use a metal cap or strainer.) We prefer Champagne or white-wine vinegar for this: They're fairly mild, so they won't overpower your herbs. But feel free to experiment with apple cider, sherry, red-wine, and rice-wine vinegars, too. Almost any herb will work, from basil to rosemary or dill to tarragon, or get crazy with garlic, whole spices, or even berries.

Poach a better egg: Hate those floaty streamers you get every time you try to poach an egg? Add a teaspoon or two of simple white vinegar to the poaching water. The vinegar helps the white set more quickly by lowering the pH of the water, reducing any pesky feathering. (It also helps to use the freshest eggs possible.)

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Clean your produce: Produce is healthy. All the little microorganisms that live on it, not so much. Make a DIY produce wash with natural disinfecting properties by mixing a cup of water, a cup of white vinegar, a tablespoon of baking soda, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Briefly soak produce in the solution or spray it on, then rinse and rub your bounty under cold water and pat dry. Clean and green.

Tasting Table is a culinary lifestyle brand that obsesses over what to eat and drink so you don't have to. It's like having a foodie best friend to distill the culinary world into must-do, must-eat, and must-know recommendations, on everything from the best Thai in the Village to the top tequila pours in Outer Mission. Hungry yet?

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