The difference between white and brown vinegar lies in their respective ingredients. White vinegar is made from fermented alcohols, such as malt or corn. Brown vinegars, however, have many other possible sources.
The brown vinegars include cider vinegar, malt vinegar, brown rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Some, such as cider vinegar, are a light or medium brown shade, while balsamic vinegar is so dark that it appears black.
White and brown vinegars have a variety of uses. Because its flavor profile is so flat, white vinegar is primarily used as a cleaning and degreasing agent. According to the Huffington Post, the brown vinegars have more intense and complex flavor profiles, making them ideal for culinary use. For example, malt vinegar is the traditional condiment sprinkled over platters of the British classic called "fish and chips." Balsamic vinegar is a popular ingredient in salad dressings, meat glazes and many sauces. Apple cider vinegar is another salad dressing staple, and it is also a popular ingredient in health tonics and various home health remedies.
Other vinegars have niche applications. For example, dark purple umeboshi vinegar comes from Japanese umeboshi plums and has a cult following among macrobiotics devotees. Another speciality vinegar is Chinese black vinegar, an inky vinegar frequently used in dumpling sauces and soups.