Coconut Vinegar: Guide to the Essential Filipino Staple

The Philippines has a rich culture of vinegar making, and one popular variety is coconut vinegar. No Filipino pantry is complete without a bottle. Used for dipping sauces and condiments or used in the cooking process, coconut vinegar adds a special touch to any dish.

Coconut sap vinegar or sukang tuba is made with naturally fermented coconut sap from the coconut tree and undergoes further acetification using yeast and bacteria. The addition of this condiment is one way to create the sour and tangy flavors tha Filipino cuisine is famous for.

While you may not have heard of coconut vinegar before, it has actually been around for quite a while. This type of vinegar is popular for its slightly sweet and tangy flavor, an important taste profile in many Filipino dishes. Coconut vinegar is made by fermenting the sap of coconuts, and is a healthy alternative to common vinegar.

How To Use Coconut Vinegar

Coconut vinegar is used in various ways and can be traced back to pre-colonial days when it was used to preserve food and as a method of cooking food in the acidic juices of the vinegar.

In Filipino cuisine, it is often used to add a sour tang to the sweet, salty, and bitter flavors present in many dishes.

From balancing flavors to cooking food and dipping sauces, coconut vinegar can be used in many ways.

Making it

There are two ways of making coconut vinegar. In order to keep up with demand, a faster commercial method was developed. In contrast, a more traditional method brings the art of developing vinegar back to its roots.

  • Adding yeast to the coconut juice or sap will jump-start the fermentation process.
  • In the traditional method, coconut juice or sap is placed in open clay jars under the sun and allowed to naturally ferment with wild yeast found in the air. This process is often known as spontaneous fermentation.

Although it can take up to twelve months for the traditional method to produce viable product, the result is well worth the wait.

What does it taste like?

You would expect the vinegar to be bursting with delicious coconut flavors transporting you to a tropical island, but that's not quite the flavor profile you'll encounter.

Coconut vinegar has a singular flavor that can be difficult to describe, particularly since not every version tastes the same. The flavors can vary depending on the brand and the age of the vinegar, but in general, it has a sweet smell with a hint of tartness and a slight nuttiness to it. It also has a milder taste than white vinegar.

Nutritional value and comparison with apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains plant compounds called polyphenols that act as antioxidants. As a result, it's often considered to be a healthy addition to recipes, as a tasty garnish to dishes, or even diluted in water as a drink. But in terms of taste and usefulness in recipes, coconut vinegar may have the edge over the more well known variety.

In a sense, coconut vinegar has given apple cider vinegar a run for its money. Coconut vinegar milder in taste with a slightly sweeter flavor than the astringent tartness of apple cider vinegar. Both have negligible calories.

People are increasingly interested in finding healthier foods to improve their lifestyles and lower their risk of chronic illnesses.

Vinegar offers a range of benefits for your health if you consume it regularly. These benefits include aiding in digestion, helping to regulate blood sugar levels, and providing a boost to your immune system

  1. The acetic acid in the vinegar helps lower the glycemic levels after heavy-carb meals and reduces the risk of diabetes in the long run. Although, I don't recommend drinking any type of diluted fermented vinegar after a meal. Either consume before food in a drink or consume as part of a dishes ingredients.
  2. It’s a great source of probiotics and promotes healthy gut flora.
  3. May help with weight management. Acetic acid keeps you feeling fuller longer and may help to prevent fat accumulation in your body.

The natural mother

The term “natural mother” in relation to coconut vinegar can be confusing, so let's clarify what it means. When a fermented product like vinegar is described as containing natural mother, it means it is pure and raw; unfiltered and unpasteurized. In other words, it hasn't been processed or altered in any way. So, if you're looking for a coconut vinegar that is as close to its natural state as possible, look for one that contains natural mother.

The mother is a culture of live organisms that forms naturally during fermentation and is visible inside the bottle, often appearing as a clump or cloudy area.

Substitutes and alternatives

If you have champagne vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice in your pantry, you can  substitute the coconut vinegar with these condiments.

Champagne vinegar is the closestsubstitute for coconut vinegar; its mild taste and distinctive floral notes make it a great stand-in product. And you can use the same amount in any recipe. 

Apple cider vinegar is another good substitute, but the flavors are much more robust, so you may want to use less of this vinegar than the recipe calls for and gradually add if needed.

If you don't like the taste of vinegar, you can always use fresh lemons or lemon juice. Lemon juice is great for adding sourness to a recipe, but the level of sweetness or bitterness in the final dish will vary depending on the type of lemon you use. I would recommend starting with half the amount of lemon juice called for in your recipe, and then adjusting.

Where to get it

Luckily coconut vinegar is not a brand new product and can be fairly easy to find in stores like Walmart and online on various platforms such as AmazonInstacart, and Ocado. You can also take a trip and visit your local Asian supermarkets or health stores for your bottle of Coconut vinegar to add to your pantry.

You can also make it at home. Coconut vinegar is made from the sap of coconut flowers or coconut water. You can make coconut vinegar at home by fermenting the coconut water with some yeast and sugar. Make sure to use fresh coconut and drain the water.

Recipe: Filipino Coconut Vinegar Dipping Sauce

Filipinos enjoy making numerous dipping sauces that make use of vinegar from the Philippines, and although you can buy some spiced coconut dipping sauce online, they are relatively easy to make at home.

This recipe shows how easy it is to make your own sinamak (spiced vinegar) condiment for dipping or basting.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups coconut vinegar
  • 1 cup dried or fresh Siling Labuyo (Filipino Bird's Eye chili). As a replacement, you can use cayenne peppers
  • 3 tablespoons of julienne sliced ginger sticks
  • 1 head of crushed garlic cloves
  • 3 teaspoons of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 medium diced onion

Method:

  1. Add chilies, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, and onions into an old liquor bottle or mason jar.
  2. Fill the jar or bottle with coconut vinegar, and shake well to mix all the ingredients.
  3. Before using the vinegar, allow it to rest for three days so that the ingredients can infuse. Leaving it longer will make the vinegar stronger and spicier.

Making Kinilaw With Coconut Vinegar

Kinilaw is a Filipino seafood dish eaten as an appetizer or finger food and is the Filipino food equivalent of ceviche, where meat cooks in the acidic juices of vinegar or citrus fruits.

Yield: Serves 4 people

Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 to 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1x 2-inch finger piece of ginger
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 red birds eye chilies (for color variation, you can use one green and one red)
  • 3 ripe plum tomatoes
  • ½ cup fresh or bottled calamansi juice (calamansi is a type of Filipino lime, but you can substitute it with key lime juice)
  • ¾ cup coconut vinegar
  • 1 pound yellowfin tuna, Spanish mackerel, or raw shrimp
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black ground pepper

Method:

  1. Add the aromatic ingredients of peeled and finely chopped ginger, thinly sliced red onion, thinly sliced rounds of chili, and diced plum tomatoes into a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Add ½ cup calamansi juice with ¼ cup coconut vinegar to the vegetable and mix well to marinate the ingredients. Place in the fridge while the flavors meld together while you prepare the fish.
  3. Cut up your choice of fish into ½-inch cubes, wash the fish in the coconut vinegar stirring to coat all the fish, and let it rest for 2 minutes. Stir again before straining the fish through a fine mesh strainer.
  4. Combine the washed fish with the aromatic ingredients from your fridge, and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper (add more if required), and toss the mixture until all ingredients are well coated.
  5. Place the mixture with the fish into the refrigerator and allow to “cook” in the vinegar to your preference, 10 minutes to 1 hour, see notes.

Note: Depending on how you prefer your fish to be “cooked,” leave it for 10 minutes for a tender cube of fish or 1 hour for a firmer texture. Any longer and it will start to get rubbery and fall apart. The longer you leave the fish, the more it cooks.

Remember that each fish “cooks” differently, so keep checking on the process regularly to ensure your fish is done to your perfection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Coconut Vinegar Need To Be Refrigerated?

Because of its acidic nature, coconut vinegar does not need to be refrigerated. It is self-preserving and can last for a long time.

Can You Make Kinilaw Ahead Of Time?

Kinilaw should be made fresh just before you intend to eat it. The longer the fish sits in the acetic acidic juices of coconut vinegar, the more the fish will cook and possibly become “overcooked.”

Is is keto?

Coconut vinegar is a great way to add flavor and depth to your food without guilt and has a very low count of carbohydrates; I'm talking 0.1g per tablespoon, so yes, coconut vinegar is definitely keto friendly. Filipino food is not always keto friendly, but using flavorings such as coconut vinegar and coconut aminos are great ways of reducing your sugar intake.

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