Zhenjiang Handcrafted Vinegar, Aged 6 Years (Chinkiang Black Vinegar)
Zhenjiang vinegar is one of China’s Four Famous Vinegars—along with Sichuan Baoning, Shanxi mature vinegar and Fujian’s Yongchun red vinegar—and the most well-known of the four outside China. It’s from Zhenjiang City—formerly romanized as Chinkiang—in the eastern province of Jiangsu, which is not far from Shanghai. The vinegar is still often called Chinkiang in the West.
Hengshun, established in 1840, is the major producer of Zhenjiang vinegar, having won numerous brand awards in China over the years. Its vinegar is all natural, fermented from glutinous rice and wheat bran, and goes through a 50-day, 40-step process before it is aged in earthenware crocks for at least half a year for the supermarket version and much longer for premium versions—specifically 6 years for this one.
The label describes it as "sour but not astringent, fragrant and slightly sweet, dark and delicious." We agree! It is indeed dark and full-bodied, looking a bit like balsamic vinegar, though it tastes nothing like balsamic and they do not make good substitutions for each other.
Because Zhenjiang vinegar has been available in the U.S. much longer than the other famous vinegars, Chinese recipes written here usually call for that vinegar. However, the four famous vinegars all taste noticeably different from each other and from other Chinese vinegars, so ideally you’d match the vinegar with the specific regional Chinese cuisine you are cooking: Zhenjiang for xiao long bao, sweet-and-sour ribs and other Eastern dishes; Baoning for Sichuan cold sauces, yuxiang and gongbao dishes, and suan la fen; Shanxi for Northern-style boiled dumplings and noodles; and Yongchun for Southern coastal seafood dishes.
More pragmatically, the premium Chinese vinegars are mostly interchangeable in Chinese cooking when black vinegar or Zhenjiang vinegar is called for. You can choose the one that suits your taste. To our own palates, Baoning is more savory, lighter colored and lighter-bodied, while Zhenjiang is darker and both more acidic and more sweet.
For more information on how the four famous vinegars are made and a thoughtful taste-test comparison, check out this video by our affiliates at Chinese Cooking Demystified.
(Note that we are not the importer of this vinegar, so did not advise on the English label. Its serving directions include dipping and "impregnation," but we would not really advise the latter.)Jiangsu Hengshun Vinegar Industry Co.
Size: 580 ml (19.6 ounces)
Ingredients: water, glutinous rice, wheat bran, rice, salt, sugar, yeast (wheat, barley, pea)
Shelf life: Naturally brewed vinegars do not expire