The Making of Vinegar

Jeff asks: Is it true that wine vinegar is just wine with acetobacter added?

olive-oil-and-vinegarYep, but the process from start to finish is a little more complicated than just that.

More than Just Wine

Vinegar can be made from any of a variety of carbohydrates: “Fruits, such as apples, grapes, berries, melons and coconuts have been turned into vinegar. Natural starches found in vegetables and grains, such as potatoes, corn, barley, wheat, rye and rice have also been used.”

Turning Sugar into Alcohol

Before it can become alcohol, grains (like corn) have to first be converted into a sugar:

All grains must be ground before mashing to expose the starch granules and help them remain in suspension in water [with] amylase enzyme [to break down the starch. Once] all the available starch . . . has been converted to dextrins . . . it’s time to raise the temperature of the mash to boiling. . . . During secondary conversion the dextrins are further reduced to simple sugars (maltose and glucose) . . . .

Once the stock is transformed into sugar, it can be fermented into alcohol in a few steps, whereby, first yeast is added to the sugar-saturated mixture, then the sugar’s proteins are converted into amino acids (becoming more acidic). Next, the sugars convert into CO2 and pyruvic acid, which eventually becomes alcohol.

Turning Alcohol into Vinegar

To turn alcohol into vinegar, a special kind of bacteria is added to the liquid: “Acetobacter aceti is . . . added to the vinegar stocks . . . . Once the fermentation process has begun, the vinegar stock should be left alone in a dark spot . . . for two to three weeks. . . Vinegar-in-progress should not be stirred or agitated during the fermentation period.”

After it ferments, vinegar is strained and kept in an airtight container to age, in order to develop the best flavors.

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Bonus Vinegar Facts:

  • Recent studies have shown that apple cider vinegar may help lower glucose levels and blood pressure and improved heart health. In addition, it can also contribute to healthy digestion: “Apple cider vinegar . . . is helpful to probiotics [good belly bacteria]. . . . Pectin [in apples] is a natural prebiotic carbohydrate that is responsible for slowing nutrient absorption by binding to products in your digestive tract that your body can’t use. . . . After the pectin in the apple cider vinegar binds to the ‘waste product,’ it carries [it away] . . . leaving the probiotics in your system to grow and continue to protect your gut…”
  • Vinegar cleans more than your gut. Many homemakers swear by it, as an eco-friendly universal cleaning product: “Vinegar has been found to be effective as a rinse agent in reducing levels of E. coli on various countertop surfaces (e.g., laminate, wood, tile, concrete, stainless steel and granite). . . . [In studies] acetic acid [vinegar] in small amounts and at relatively high pH values proved more toxic to representative bacteria, yeast and mold than lactic or hydrochloric acid. Not only can acetic acid inhibit and destroy microorganisms when used in sufficiently high concentrations, it also aids materially in reducing . . . bacteria when present in sub-lethal concentrations.”
  • In a venerated Taoist teaching text, The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff uses the metaphor of the Vinegar Tasters to explain one of the religion’s basic tenets. In the tale, the tasters are the masters of three great religions, Confucius, Buddha and Lao-tse. Each of the three tastes the vinegar, and Confucius finds it sour, Buddha thinks it is bitter, but to Lao-tse, it tastes sweet. Hoff explains that this is because Lao-tse lives “in harmony with life’s circumstances . . . [and this] understanding changes what others may perceive as negative [into] something positive.” Or maybe Lao-tse just likes vinegar.

Bonus Great Vinegar Recipes:

Incredibly versatile, depending on the vinegar, you can put it on salad, in a main dish, and even in a dessert

Salad Dressing

Giada De Laurentiis’s dressing is delicious and easy. Place in a blender:

  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 TBL lemon juice
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt
  • black pepper (to taste)

With the machine on medium speed, slowly drizzle in (if it isn’t slow, the liquids won’t emulsify) 1 cup olive oil


Main Dish

This salmon recipe from bell’alimento is quick and healthy:

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place in a small sauce pan 1 cup of raisins

Cover with water, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the raisins are plump (about 6-8 minutes). Drain and blend (in a blender) until pureed, then transfer to a small bowl and whisk the raisins together with:

  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic paste

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and add 2 lb. salmon filet (cut into pieces or left whole)

Top with half the vinegar-raisin mixture. Bake for 10 minutes. Then brush with the remaining mixture and return the salmon to the hot oven for another 5 minutes. Serve.


Mario Batali adds balsamic to strawberries in this unique Italian dessert:

In a large glass bowl, place:

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 3 TBL sugar
  • 1 TBL balsamic vinegar
  • 3 basil leaves, torn

Stir and set aside to macerate. Separately, lightly toast 6 thin slices of a neutral-tasting bread

Brush each toast with the liquid, then on each spread:

  • 1 TBL ricotta cheese
  • 1 TBL prepared strawberries

Drizzle each with a bit more liquid and top with a pinch of pepper. Buon Appetito!

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