How to Make Vinegar and Other Vinegar Basics

A Homemade Vinegar Recipe and More...

How to Make Vinegar and Other Vinegar Basics

By Rita Heikenfeld and Erin Phillips – Did you know that one of the most common condiments, vinegar, has a history going back to ancient times? Over 10,000 years ago, people learned how to make vinegar in a serendipitous way: by accident. With the help of bacteria in the air, leftover wine began to ferment. Vinegar was born! The name comes from the French: “vin”/wine and “gar”/sour. For many years vinegar was known simply as sour wine.

Five thousand years before Christ was born, the Babylonians learned how to make vinegar from dates. It was used as a preservative and a condiment. They were also canny enough to flavor their vinegar with herbs and were the first to have written accounts of vinegar.

Like wine, vinegar can be made from just about anything that ferments. Throughout history, folks have learned how to make vinegar with fruits, spices, vegetables, herbs, rice, flowers, honey, and grains.

In Italy, ancient vessels in the catacombs still hold traces of vinegar.

Vinegar Uses in Ancient Times

The vinegar quoted in scripture was made from wine. It is said that Christ was offered a drink of vinegar and water as he was dying on the cross. The Greeks and Romans kept vinegar vessels where they dipped their bread. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed vinegar and water to his patients. Caesar did the same thing with his army, but they drank it for strength and as a preventative. European aristocrats during the middle ages carried small silver boxes called vinaigrettes (sound familiar?) to carry sponges dipped in vinegar. They held the sponge to their noses to repel raw sewage and garbage odors so prevalent in the streets at the time.

Columbus and his crew drank it during their long voyages as protection against scurvy.

Vinegar Legends Abound

Legend says that Cleopatra made a bet with Marc Antony that she could consume the world’s costliest meal in one sitting. She dissolved precious pearls in vinegar and then drank it. Bet won!

Vinegar was being used in French food by the Middle Ages; vendors sold it from barrels in the street in 13th century Paris. It was available with mustard and garlic (think Dijon mustard) as well as plain. The plague hit French cities during this time. The dead were so numerous that convicts were released from jail to bury them. According to another legend, there was a team of four thieves who survived burying these infectious people by drinking a potion they made of vinegar and garlic. Two powerful anti-bacterials for sure.

Vinegar Today

Fast forward to relatively modern times, and we see Henry Heinz in 1869 manufacturing vinegar made from apples and grain. He sold it to grocers in paraffin-lined oak casks. People were still making their own vinegar in barrels or crocks stored in barns or basements. The Heinz company marketed their vinegar as “more clean, pure and wholesome” than vinegar made at home. A vinegar empire began with those humble roots.

Today there is a dizzying array of kinds of vinegar, but cider and distilled white vinegar are still the most popular.

Organic apple cider with the “mother” is often used as a health drink and in recipes. It’s considered a standby in many kitchens along with clear vinegar. It not only flavors food but also can be used effectively for cleaning. Clear vinegar is the base for homemade white wine vinegar. You can purchase or learn how to make white wine vinegar, which can be helpful if you need a large amount to make herbal vinegar.

tarragon-vinegar

A Vinegar Tasting

Hosting a vinegar tasting can be fun and a good way to taste the nuances of different flavored kinds of vinegar. It’s prudent to categorize vinegar tastings into wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Don’t mix both. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • List of bottles of vinegar being tested along with comment sheets.
  • Small snifter shaped glasses which allow the aroma to develop.
  • Swabs with wooden tips or sugar cubes. Swabs give you just enough vinegar for a tasting with less of the sourness. Sugar cubes allow you to taste a little more vinegar and balance the vinegar’s sourness.
  • Napkins.
  • Glasses of water to rinse and neutralize the vinegar between tastings.
  • A few recipes showcasing the vinegar, like herbed vinegar and oil dips for cubes of bread and vinaigrette with simple greens.

vinegar-tasting

Types of Vinegar

There are many types of vinegar, each with a somewhat unique flavor. See if you can find small bottles of several types and try making the same dish or dressing with different kinds of vinegar to experience for yourself their various flavor profiles. For example, red and white wine vinegar can often be interchanged but white wine vinegar has a mellower flavor and won’t change the color of your food. Try both and see which you like better!

Type Flavor
Profile
How It’s Made Common Uses
Distilled White Vinegar Strong Fermented Distilled Alcohol Pickling, Cleaning
Apple Cider Vinegar Mellow Ferment apples to alcohol then vinegar. Salad Dressings, Pickling (Is thought to have some medicinal properties.)
Red Wine Vinegar Sharp Fermented Red Wine Salad Dressings, Marinades
White Wine Vinegar Mellow Fermented White Wine Salad Dressings, Marinades (Use where you want more mellow flavor and/or don’t want to change the color of the food.
Balsamic Vinegar Rich Press grapes and age the juice – much like winemaking. Salad Dressings, Marinades (An accent for sweet and savory dishes.)
Sherry Vinegar Complex Fermented Sherry Wine Salad Dressings, Marinades
Champagne Vinegar Fresh Fermented Champagne Salad Dressings
Rice Wine Vinegar Sweet Fermented Rice Wine Asian Dishes, Salad Dressings
Malt Vinegar Mellow Brew barley into beer then ferment the beer. A condiment for fried foods.

How To Make Vinegar: Apple Cider Vinegar

If you’re making a lot of apple dishes, like applesauce, you’ll find yourself with loads of apples peels and cores that would otherwise go to waste. If you have any experience with basic fermenting — like making and flavoring kombucha — making apple cider vinegar will be simple for you to pick up and a great way to use apple scraps.

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Start with a large bowl full of apple peels and cores. You can also use whole apples; simply cut them up into chunks. Fill two large, half a gallon, sterilized Ball jars about 75 percent full with apple pieces. For the liquid, make a sugar solution with the ratio of one tablespoon of sugar to each cup of water. For two jars, you will use about six tablespoons of sugar and six cups of water. Dissolve the sugar completely, then pour the liquid over the apple pieces. Make more if you need it to completely submerge the apples. You want the apple pieces to stay under the liquid so stick a plastic zipper bag down into the top of the jar so it touches the top of the apples. Fill it with water and zip it closed. This will weigh down the apples so they don’t come up out of the sugar water. Cover the top with clean cheesecloth held in place with a string or rubber band so no fruit flies and get in. A good place to put ferments can be the utility closet just off the kitchen, where the temperature stays consistent and just slightly warmer than the rest of the kitchen. Now the big wait begins.

Check your vinegar every few days to make sure no mold is growing; if you see mold, dump it and start over. A white foam may develop on top; that’s normal. Just scoop it off as it forms. After three weeks or so, when it begins to smell sweet, strain out the apple pieces and return the liquid to the jar. Cover with the cheesecloth and let it continue to ferment for another few weeks, stirring it every few days. After about three weeks, check the flavor. When it reaches your desired flavor, screw a lid on it and it’s done.

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Once you learn how to make apple cider vinegar, you will find so many uses for it from vinaigrettes to marinades to cleansing hair and face rinses. You can use apple cider vinegar for chickens and there’s even a fun drink called a shrub that mixes fruit juice, apple cider vinegar, and sugar or honey. What will you do with your homemade vinegar?

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