Saturday, 28 March 2015 00:00

What is Vinegar? How is vinegar made?

How is vinegar made?


Have you ever tasted wine that has soured after being opened? That’s vinegar! In fact, vinegar derives its modern name from the Old French, vinaigre, which means “sour wine.”

Vinegar is a sour-tasting liquid comprised mainly of acetic acid and water. Acetic acid, which gives vinegar its pungent smell and flavor, is produced by the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Vinegar is approximately 3% to 9% acetic acid by volume.

Once oxygen comes into contact with wine, a process called oxidation begins. When the acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) found in wine is exposed to oxygen, it turns alcohol into acetic acid. As a result, the wine “sours” because it has been converted into acetic acid.

Vinegar can be made from any alcohol-containing liquid, including wine, beer and fermented fruit juices and nectars, or, any other liquids containing sugar (which naturally ferments).


How is vinegar made?


There are two main processes by which vinegar is made: the fast and the slow process.

In the fast process, vinegar can be produced in as little as 20 hours to 3 days.

In the slow process, which is how vinegar is traditionally made, fermentation takes several months to a year.

Both processes require the presence of a non-toxic slime called “mother of vinegar,” which is made of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose.

In the slow process, sometimes called the Orleans Process, mother of vinegar naturally accumulates over time as the chosen liquid ferments in wooden barrels. Holes are drilled at the ends of the barrels a few inches above the surface of the liquid and left open, but covered with a fine screen to prevent contamination. Next, fresh vinegar making up 20% to 25% of the volume of the barrel is added in order to acidify the liquid and promote growth of acetic bacteria. As the newly added vinegar bacteria mixes with the liquid, and oxygen enters through the screened holes in the barrel, a thick slime of mother of vinegar develops. The mixture is fermented for several months, and the gelatinous slime removed before the vinegar is finally bottled.

The fast process of vinegar production is similar to the slow process, except that machines are used to promote oxygenation to speed up the fermentation process, allowing vinegar to be produced in a matter of days or even hours.


  • Latin Name:

    Vinum acetum (“wine turned sour”)



    (Piloncillos is an unrefined Mexican sugar that is made from cane sugar made from boiling and evaporating cane juice. Piloncillo is the most common name for this type of sugar in Mexico, but the is also known as panocha or panela in other Latin and Central American countries. It can be found pressed into blocks or rounds, as well as cones, at Mexican markets. This form is very easy to store and transport, so it is also quite inexpensive.)

  • Storage:

    Vinegar can be stored in the refrigerator, but is also fine left in a cool, dark place.  However, fruit and herb vinegars should be kept refrigerated in order to retain their flavor.  Be sure caps are secured tightly so oxidation does not continue to occur.  After about 6 months, don’t be surprised if the vinegar naturally begins to lose its flavor. It's not "going bad" but continued oxidation is changing the flavor.

  • History:

    Scientifically, vinegar and the bacterial process by which it is made is simply nature at work.  As far as mankind is concerned, vinegar has been around as long as alcohol: Any alcoholic beverage that is exposed to air naturally turns into vinegar.

    The earliest recorded history of civilization intentionally making vinegar dates back to the Babylonian civilization, circa 5,000 BCE. The ancient Babylonians used the fruit of the date palm to make wine and vinegar, and used vinegar as a pickling agent. In Egypt, urns dating to 3,000 BCE also contain vinegar residue. The first documentation of rice vinegar in China dates back to 1200 BCE.

    In ancient Greece, circa 400 BCE, the father of western medical science, Hippocrates, noted that vinegar was useful in disinfecting wounds, and could be used as an antibiotic. In Biblical times, vinegar was also used as medicine and to flavor foods, as well as an energy drink, pre-dating Redbull by a few thousand years.

    During the Middle Ages, vinegar was first used as a household cleaning agent, with an abrasive such as sand, to polish armor. Later, in the 17th century, the French used vinegar to cool hot iron cannons while cleaning them and inhibiting rust formation.

    Apple cider vinegar played an important role in American history since colonial days. The folk hero, “Johnny Appleseed” (John Chapman) shared apple seeds with settlers from Pennsylvania as far west as Indiana. American families lived on apple cider in the 18th and 19th centuries, often drinking it as a safer alternative to contaminated water.

    Early American farm workers drank apple cider vinegar as a refreshing, energizing tonic. It was also used for medicinal and household purposes.  To this day, the base ingredient in a popular New England folk remedy for the common cold is “Fire Cider,”  which is apple cider vinegar infused with potent herbs.

    Vinegar was used as an antiseptic by medics in wars dating as far back as ancient times, and as recently as World War I.

  • Varieties:

    Because it can be made from any liquid that has alcohol, including fermented fruit juices, vinegar is an incredibly versatile liquid. In fact, you may be familiar with several varieties. Here is a list of some popular types of vinegar, as well as lesser-known varieties:

    White (distilled) vinegar made from grain alcohol

    Apple cider vinegar

    Wine vinegar made from red, white,rose wines or champagne

    Balsamic vinegar is made from grape must in the regions of Modena or Reggio Emilio in Italy but has many imitators. Read the blog on Balsamic vinegar to understand how to recognize real balsamic vinegar.

    Other varieties include: Malt vinegar, beer vinegar, rice wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, cane vinegar, kombucha vinegar, honey vinegar, date vinegar, palm vinegar, and Chinese black vinegar.  

    Vinegar glazes simply have less water content than ordinary vinegars and can be made by reducing (boiling down) regular store bought vinegar.

  • Products:

    Vinegar has many culinary uses. It is primarily used in the pickling process, in vinaigrettes and other salad dressings, in marinades and as an ingredient in condiments such as ketchup, chutney, and mayonnaise.

    White vinegar also has several household uses due to the benefits of its acidity, which is useful in dissolving mineral residue, as well as for polishing glass, bronze and stainless steel surfaces. It is also used as a household disinfectant, due to its antibacterial properties - although it is less effective against human pathogens than other chemical cleaners.

    Although there is little scientific research that conclusively prove its efficacy, vinegar has been used medicinally for thousands of years, primarily for its antimicrobial properties.

  • Top Health Benefits:

    For thousands of years, vinegar has been touted for its health benefits. In ancient Greece, the famed physician Hippocrates used it as a wound disinfectant and antibiotic, and through World War I, it was used by medics to treat battlefield wounds.

    Vinegar is a popular folk remedy to this day, and some advocates claim it can prevent or heal serious ailments such as heart disease and cancer. However, there is still little scientific research that conclusively proves vinegar therapeutic for health purposes. Here’s what we do know:

    Vinegar’s high content of acetic acid can increase the body’s absorption of minerals from the foods we eat. Adding apple cider vinegar to meals (such as in salad dressing) or drinking a tonic of vinegar and water (one tablespoon of vinegar in a glass of water) can help the body absorb essential minerals locked in foods.

    Because of vinegar’s ability to help the body absorb minerals, it can be particularly beneficial to people who have a difficult time absorbing calcium to prevent bone-thinning diseases such osteoporosis. People who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or have other dietary restrictions that prevent them from getting calcium from dairy products, must look to the second-best source of calcium in nature: Dark leafy greens. However, these greens contain compounds that inhibit calcium absorption. Adding vinegar, such as a vinaigrette to a salad, can help the body absorb the calcium from leafy greens.

    Vinegar may help people with Type II diabetes control their blood sugar levels. A study cited in 2004 by the American Diabetes Association indicates that vinegar can help increase overall insulin sensitivity in Type II diabetics. When the body is more receptive to insulin, the hormone is more effective in getting sugar out of the blood and into the cells.

    There are so many different flavors and varieties of vinegar that experimenting offers myriad delicious possibilities. Flavored vinegars can also be used as replacements for other ingredients  high in sodium or unhealthy saturated and trans fats, thus helping to manage blood pressure, and decreasing the risk or serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

    Some research shows that adding vinegar to water (in a 10% vinegar, 90% water solution) when washing fruits and vegetables helps in more effectively removing some pesticide residues, as well as bacteria, from store bought produce. Do not use this process on porous or fragile veggies and fruits, such as berries as they could be damaged by soaking up too much vinegar in their porous skins.

  • Grow it yourself:

    Making your own vinegar


    Storage notes: The first thing to know about making your own vinegar is that the acidity and pH levels of homemade vinegar vary greatly. Do not use homemade vinegar for canning, preserving or anything that needs to be stored at room temperature. Because of the inconsistency of acidity and pH levels in homemade vinegar, it may not be sufficient for preserving food and could even lead to food poisoning. In some cases, the pH levels in unrefrigerated homemade vinegar can weaken and allow harmful pathogens, such as E. coli, to grow.

    Homemade vinegar can be used for marinades, dressings, and for pickled products that are stored in the refrigerator at all times.

    Supplies you’ll need to make vinegar at home:

    1. Mother of vinegar or a starter vinegar (to provide acetic bacteria). The acetic bacteria and cellulose “mother of vinegar” can be purchased online, and starter vinegars can be purchased at beer and wine supply shops, or ordered online.

    2. A non-metal container (vinegar corrodes metal) such as a glass jar or bowl, a food grade plastic bucket, or a wooden cask. The vessel should have a wide mouth, as the acetobacter of the mother vinegar requires oxygen to do its job making vinegar.

    3. Cheesecloth, paper towel, or a breathable open-weave dish cloth that can serve as a cover over the container that allows oxygen to enter. It should be sealed around the mouth of the container with a rubber band.

    4. Alcohol: Wine, vinegar, fermented fruit juice (ie apple cider).

    5. Patience.


    To make wine vinegar, add one part unchlorinated water (boil first, and allow to cool if water is chlorinated) and two parts wine to your vinegar container and stir. Red wine vinegar is a great option for a “first run attempt” at making homemade vinegar!

    To make beer or cider vinegar, use one part starter and two parts of your alcoholic beverage of choice, but skip the water.

    Once your container is prepared with the alcoholic beverage of your choice, it is time to add one part starter vinegar or gently add the mother vinegar to the liquid.

    Cover the container using a breathable cloth, paper towel, or a couple layers of cheesecloth and seal tightly with a rubber band.

    Store the vinegar pot out of the sunlight, in a place where the temperature remains between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Over the next couple weeks, monitor the vinegar. Over time, the mother at the top of the vinegar will thicken, and may develop a brownish color. However, if you see mold or if the vinegar develops a paint-thinner aroma, discard the batch and start over.

    Begin tasting the vinegar after the first two weeks:  Lift or remove the mother vinegar, or it may sink (which is okay). When the liquid tastes like vinegar, it’s ready - but it will develop a stronger flavor if you ferment it for a longer period of time.

    Pour the finished vinegar through a strainer and store in glass bottles with tight screw lids or corks to prevent further oxidation.

    Keep some remaining vinegar in the original vessel, and immediately begin to make a new batch of vinegar with this starter and the original mother vinegar, or save the mother vinegar in the container. Mother vinegar may sit in the vessel for up to one month at room temperature before it is used again for a new batch.

    Once you’ve made and bottled your homemade vinegar, you can get creative with it. Consider infusing homemade vinegar with herbs and spices such as rosemary, flavorful berries, lemon, cloves and cinnamon, or hot peppers.

    To infuse vinegar:

    1. Prepare a clean, glass canning jar by submerging it in hot water while heating vinegar to 160 degrees in a saucepan. Turn off heat.

    2. Remove jar from hot water and drain. Pack herbs or other infusion ingredients into the jar and pour in vinegar, leaving ¼ inch of headspace.

    3. Place wax paper over top of jar (to prevent corrosion of metal lid) and screw lid tight.

    4. Store at room temperature up to one month and taste test. When vinegar is infused to taste, strain out the infusion ingredients.

    5. Store finished infused vinegar in a narrow-necked glass bottle with a tight top to prevent oxidation and maintain best taste.

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