Vinegar is an amazing liquid, with a multitude of everyday uses:
- We use it in the kitchen as a condiment and preservative for pickles, vegetables and relishes.
- As a nontoxic household cleaner with dozens of applications.
- It’s an environmentally friendly weed killer.
- It’s used to set dyes in fabric, and ironically, to whiten fabrics.
- To unclog drains and disinfect cutting boards.
- As an air freshener to remove the smell of smoke.
- It will keep our pets free of fleas and ticks.
- And the list goes on and on!
Such a simple fluid, and yet so versatile. So let’s have a closer look at “vin aiger” – which the French aptly named, meaning sour wine. We’ll go over some of its applications in the kitchen as well as a couple of recipes using different types to pique our taste buds.
This wonderful soured liqueur is made from two natural, biological fermentation processes. The first, alcoholic fermentation, occurs when yeast converts sugar into alcohol.
And in the second phase, known as acetic fermentation, a bacteria called Acetobacter then changes the alcohol into acid, which creates vinegar. Acetic acid is one of its main properties, but vinegar is not acetic acid.
Acetic acid itself does not contain the small amounts of macro and micronutrients found in its host.
Perfect for enhancing the flavor of food, it’s also very low in calories with just 9 per tablespoon for distilled white and 14 per tablespoon in balsamic, with the calories coming from the carbohydrates found in sugar.
With zero fats and very low amounts of carbohydrates, some studies have shown that a small daily intake may be an effective aid in weight reduction programs.
But another study from the Netherlands in 2012 found that daily swilling of the apple cider variety may be damaging to tooth enamel, so caution needs to be exercised.
Considering its many claims to beneficial health properties, little research to date has actually been conducted to reach any concrete conclusions regarding potential health benefits.
Types and Varieties
As vinegar can be made from any fruit or sugar source, there are a wide range of varieties found in specialty and health food stores.
Some of the more common types found in retail outlets are:
- Distilled white
- Wine, both red and white
Whatever the variety, each is labeled by the FDA according to the materials and manufacturing processes used to make it. Generally, they involve the two-fold process mentioned above, and are classified according to their starting materials.
Foodal recommends this Balsamic Vinegar Gift Set by Robbins Family Farms to try out a few varieties.
Distilled white is made from dilute distilled alcohol; the wine varieties come from grapes; cider is made from apples; malt from barley malt and other cereal grains; rice from rice; and balsamic is made from grapes but can also undergo a third step of heating or concentration.
Make Your Own
Vinegar is easily made at home from any fruit scraps, such as apple cores and peels leftover when baking pies or making applesauce. Here’s how:
- Coarsely chop fruit scraps, removing any bruised areas.
- Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to kick start fermentation.
- Add sugar water to the ratio of ¼ cup sugar to 1 quart room temperature water, dissolving the sugar completely.
- Place the fruit scraps in mason jars and fill with the sugar water. Place in a cool, dark location and cover with a clean tea towel.
- Stir daily. After a week or so, the fluid should darken. At this point, strain and remove the scraps, return the liquid to the jars, cover again and ferment for another 2-3 weeks. Stir periodically during this time.
The result will be flavorful and fragrant, a wonderful ingredient for use in homemade salad dressings and condiments.
However, as the acidity of homemade brews can fluctuate greatly, don’t use this for canning or pickles, as the acetic acid levels need to be at least 4% to ensure that any bacteria is killed.
If you get into making your own as a hobby, then I’d pick up a copy of the book referenced above. It goes into much more detail on the production process and includes 17 recipes for infused or flavored varieties.
I pretty much love anything that Storey publishes. They aren’t coffee table books with tons of pretty pictures, but if you’re looking for practical “how to” guides, they are about as good as it gets. I picked up my copy from Amazon.
Most commercially produced vinegars today go through pasteurization and will remain clear. But some, such as organic varieties, cider and balsamic types, may form sediment after opening.
This is known as “mother of vinegar,” and it’s formed by the natural bacteria in the fermentation process. It is actually cellulose, a plant fiber.
Completely harmless, though not particularly appealing to look at, it doesn’t affect the flavor or effectiveness; simply strain and enjoy as usual.
Because it’s an acid with a low pH level, it’s self-preserving and doesn’t require refrigeration, and has a virtually limitless shelf life. Some cloudiness may occur over time, but again, this doesn’t affect its flavor or other properties.
A Bit of Background
While there’s no hard and fast documentation of early production, archeology points to the Neolithic era or approximately 8,000 BC as the time period of its initial appearance.
Almost certainly an accident of early wine making using dates and figs by our farming ancestors, large jugs with clay stoppers dating to 5,000 BC that were found in Mesopotamia contained residues typical to vinegars.
Similar residues were also found in Egyptian urns circa 3,000 BC, as well as evidence of soured rice wine in China from the same era.
The Romans were known to make vinegars from grapes and dates that were poured into bowls for dunking with bread, and the Roman Legion also mixed it with water for a refreshing drink called “posca.”
Hippocrates reportedly prescribed a home-brewed cider type mixed with honey for coughs and colds, and the Greeks were known to pickle vegetables with it.
During the Middle Ages, this tart elixir was used as a drink and condiment, and also for washing. When Cardinal Woolsey’s duties required him to mix with the peasant crowds, he carried a hollowed orange that contained a vinegar soaked sponge and whole spices to protect him from infection.
During the time of the Bubonic plague, a similar concoction called “four thieves’ vinegar” was reputed to protect bandits as they the robbed the sick and the dead.
In 1394 in Paris, the first vinegar distillation company was incorporated. And in 1895, Louis Pasteur identified the actual process of bacterial acetification as part of his work on fermentation.
Some Kitchen Uses
Here’s a few favorite uses for in the kitchen, all using distilled white vinegar:
- Deodorize and clear the kitchen drain by pouring in 1/2 cup baking soda followed by 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. When the foaming stops, fish with hot running water. Wait five minutes, then flush again with cold water. It’s gentler on the pipes than commercial cleaners, and also deodorizes by removing bacteria.
- Absorb the smell of grilling smoke by filling a shallow bowl ¾ full with white vinegar, and let it sit for several hours. By the end of the day, the smell of smoke will be gone.
- As an acidic cousin to lemon and limes (which can be uses to polish metal), vinegar can be used to buff up stainless steel appliances by misting with a spray bottle and then buffing with a soft cloth.
- As a natural non-toxic cleaner, it can cut through cooking grease on the stove, counters and backsplashes. Try pouring some directly onto a damp cloth and wiping down surfaces. Some other natural cleaners include lemon, baking soda, and borax.
- Disinfect cutting boards with full strength distilled white, as the acetic acid will eliminate harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and staphylococcus.
- Clean the drip coffee maker with a solution of 2 cups white and 1 cup water. Run the cycle, then rinse at least once with a plain water cycle. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions first.
- Clean the garbage disposal (or “garburator,” for us Canucks) with vinegar ice cubes. Put 1 teaspoon distilled white in each cube mold, fill with water and freeze, then run through the garbage disposal.
- Clean and eliminate bacteria and germs from your veggies and fruit before putting them away with the solution outlined in our post on kitchen hacks.
Truly a gift from nature, vinegar remains a pure and simple potion that seems designed entirely for our benefit. So in appreciation, here’s a tasty recipe for a lentil salad that uses apple cider and another type for a white wine herbed vinaigrette – enjoy!
Pecan Lentil Salad
This flavorful salad can be served on its own or over a bed of lettuce, with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers or orange pieces on the side. This teams up nicely with a dry white wine and a fresh, crusty baguette.
Be careful not to overcook the lentils, as they’ll become mushy. In fact, certain varieties are better at holding their shape than others. The lentils do tend to become soggy if left overnight, so this dish is best served the day it’s made.
This tangy vinaigrette goes well with any tossed green salad or drizzled over steamed vegetables, and it adds great flavor to foil wrapped veggies done on the barbecue.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.