9 Substitutes for Vinegar in Coleslaw

Need a quick substitute for vinegar in your coleslaw recipe and wondering what will work? Your standard coleslaw recipe often includes vinegar in addition to mayonnaise to give this delicious side dish a tangy bite.

I’ve occasionally had to swap out the vinegar for other ingredients in my favorite coleslaw recipes, sometimes with interesting results. Whether you hate the taste of vinegar or don’t have any on hand, we’ve found several ingredients you can use to replace vinegar when making vegetable coleslaw.

  • Lime Juice
  • Lemon Juice
  • Yogurt
  • Sour Cream
  • Buttermilk
  • Dill Pickle Relish
  • Kombucha
  • Ketchup
  • Kefir

Let’s take a deeper look into the best substitutes for vinegar in coleslaw.

For the best cabbages and other tips for making coleslaw, see my post on making the best coleslaw.

1. Lime Juice

Most coleslaw recipes call for a mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, a sweetener, and spices such as celery seed, salt and pepper. The most common kinds of vinegar suggested are white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. White vinegar is very acidic, and apple cider is a little milder with an apple aftertaste.

To get the same tangy taste, your substitute must be acidic, but keep in mind different ingredients will change the flavor of your traditional coleslaw.

Lime juice is one of the best substitutes for vinegar. It’s sour and acidic, so it will help bring out the other flavors. It does have a distinct taste, a little sweeter and more fruity than vinegar. Replace in the exact quantities.

2. Lemon Juice

Like lime juice, lemon is an excellent alternative to vinegar, but be aware that it has a robust tart taste. It has the sourness that your vinegar brings but with its distinct lemon flavor that will change the dish.

If you love the sharp taste of lemon, this won’t be a problem, and creating a lemon-infused coleslaw dressing may become your signature salad. Use about the same amount of lemon juice as you would vinegar to make up your dressing.

You can interchange them fairly easily, I also wrote a post on 9 Substitutes For Lemon Juice In Salad Dressing.

3. Yogurt

The next few dairy-based options will give you a much milder taste in your coleslaw.

Vinegar has a PH of 2-3, with an acetic acidic strength of around 4-8%. Yogurt has an acidic PH but has a much milder flavor due to the lactic acid from the Lacto-fermentation process, rather than acetic acid like in vinegar.

If you decide to use yogurt to replace vinegar, you will get some sour flavor, but it will be less intense. If the yogurt has been left to ferment for longer, it will become increasingly acidic and sour.

Make sure you use plain, unflavored yogurt, and don’t add a sweetened fruit or dessert yogurt to your dressing. Replace in equal quantities and thin as necessary.

4. Sour Cream

Another mild-flavored acidic food is sour cream if you don’t have yogurt. Again, add to your coleslaw dressing in the same amount as you would vinegar and thin with a few drops of lemon juice.

The problem with sour cream is it has a much higher calorie content than vinegar. By adding to the already high-fat mayonnaise dressing, you will have a very rich, high-calorie coleslaw with a mild rather than tangy taste. You could try mixing half sour cream with citrus juice instead.

5. Buttermilk

Buttermilk is the side product created when the cream is churned to butter. It has a sour taste and is often used in baking and marinades. It has an acidic nature (which is why it works so well as a tenderizer) and can do a substitute for vinegar in a coleslaw dressing.

Again, this will be a much milder tanginess than vinegar, so taste test to see if you want to add more acidic notes with lemon or lime.

6. Pickle Relish

If you don’t have vinegar on hand, you can try using a relish containing vinegar. Still, this will have added herbs and spices and create an entirely different taste to your standard coleslaw.

I love it when these kinds of accidental experiments work, and you end up with a fabulous new dish. Try adding dill pickle relish to your mayonnaise mixture instead of vinegar to give it a bite. You may need lemon juice to thin the dressing down a little, but don’t make it too runny.

If you have whole pickles in the fridge, you could use some of the dill pickle juice to replace your vinegar. The added dill and herbs will only deepen the dressing flavor.

7. Kombucha

Kombucha is perhaps an unusual substitute for vinegar in a coleslaw dressing, but this is my secret ingredient in many dishes using vinegar. This healthy fermented drink can be made at home, and you can use ‘over-fermented’ kombucha tea, much like vinegar.

If you buy a store-bought version, it may have added sweeteners and flavorings, so don’t add extra sugar or honey until after you have taste-tested your dressing.

I discovered this excellent use for kombucha when I left a batch to ferment for too long, and it ended up with a strong vinegary sourness. Instead of throwing it away, it became my new replacement vinegar. Replace the distilled white vinegar with an equal amount of kombucha.

Check out this kombucha coleslaw recipe.

8. Ketchup

You might consider the suggestion of ketchup as a vinegar replacement to be totally out there, but ketchup uses quite a bit of vinegar to get that tangy taste. The sugars and the tomato will create quite a sweet dressing; mixed with mayonnaise, you’ll get a pinkish dressing.

Pink coleslaw might sound odd, but try mixing it with red cabbage instead of white and adding a few currants to lean into a unique sweet and sour flavor profile for your coleslaw.

Ketchup is quite a bit thicker than vinegar, so first, mix all your ingredients for the dressing together before seeing if you need to thin it with some lemon juice or water.

Try this pink ketchup coleslaw recipe.

9. Kefir

Another fermented drink is kefir, which looks and tastes somewhat like thin, sour, drinking yogurt. This drink is an excellent substitute, especially if you mix it with another gut-healthy fermented food like kombucha. Use the equivalent amount of kefir to replace the vinegar for a thick, creamy dressing with a unique mild but sour tang, and thin it if necessary.

Pro-biotic live foods such as live yogurt, kefir, and kombucha are wonderful substitutes for vinegar if you’re trying to make healthier choices with foods that are good for your stomach bacteria.

Check out this coleslaw recipe with Kefir.

Best Vinegar For Coleslaw

White vinegar is probably the most common ingredient listed for most coleslaw recipes, but other types of vinegar are more interesting if you have them to hand.

These replacements I suggest are milder, less sour, and less intense-tasting than white vinegar but will work very well.

  • White wine vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Japanese rice vinegar 

You could use malt vinegar in a pinch, but it may discolor your cabbage.

I’d avoid Balsamic vinegar as a replacement in coleslaw dressing as it has a distinct tart-sweetness that could overwhelm the other flavors. You could try mixing it with another milder vinegar to experiment with flavors, but the dark color could impact the look of your salad.

If you’re making coleslaw in advance then don’t add the dressing too early. Doing so causes the vinegar to make it soggy – see some more tips in my post making coleslaw in advance.


Hopefully, my list of substitutes for vinegar in coleslaw has helped you find a replacement.

Creamy coleslaw dressing isn’t only mayonnaise but includes a few other touches like vinegar to make it taste so good. If you can’t eat vinegar or have run out, there are several substitutes you can use for the acidic properties, but almost all of them will have a much milder flavor than distilled white vinegar.

One of my favorites is a mixture of half mayonnaise, half yogurt, and a squeeze of lemon for a healthy and tasty version.

Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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