Everything you need to know about vinegar.
What is Vinegar?
The dictionary defines vinegar as “sour wine” or “a sour liquid obtained by acetic fermentation of dilute alcoholic liquids and used as a condiment or preservative.”
How is Vinegar Made?
Vinegar is made by two distinct biological processes, both the result of the action of harmless microorganisms (yeast and “Acetobacter”) that turn sugars (carbohydrates) into acetic acid. Many of our favorite foods involve some type of bacteria in their production – from cheese and yogurt to wine, pickles and chocolate. The first process is called alcoholic fermentation and occurs when yeasts change natural sugars to alcohol under controlled conditions. In the second process, a group of bacteria (called “Acetobacter”) converts the alcohol portion to acid. This is the acetic, or acid fermentation, that forms vinegar. Proper bacteria cultures are important; timing is important; and fermentation should be carefully controlled.
Although acetic acid is the primary constituent of vinegar aside from water, acetic acid is not vinegar. Vinegar contains many vitamins and other compounds not found in acetic acid such as riboflavin, vitamin B-1 and mineral salts from the starting material that impart vinegar with its distinct flavor.
What is Vinegar Made From?
Vinegar can be made from any fruit, or from any material containing sugar.
What Are the Different Types of Vinegar?
Since vinegar can be made from anything with sugar, there are probably too many different types to count made in countries throughout the world. Each country may use starting materials native to their area and tailored to the specific tastes of the region.
Typical retail varieties of vinegar include white distilled, cider, wine (white and red), rice, balsamic, malt and sugar cane. Other, more specialized types include banana, pineapple, raspberry, flavored and seasoned (e.g., garlic, tarragon).
Are there Formal Standards for Vinegar?
The following varieties of vinegar are classified by a United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Compliance Policy Guide for labeling purposes according to their starting material and method of manufacturing:
- Cider vinegar or apple vinegar is made from the two-fold fermentation of the juices of apples. Vinegar can be made from other fruits such as peaches and berries with the labels describing starting materials.
- Wine vinegar or grape vinegar is made from the two-fold fermentation of the juice of grapes.
- Malt vinegar, made by the two-fold fermentation of barley malt or other cereals where starch has been converted to maltose.
- Sugar vinegar, made by the two-fold fermentation of solutions of sugar syrup or molasses.
- Spirit or distilled vinegar, made by the acetic fermentation of dilute distilled alcohol.
- Blended vinegar made from a mixture of spirit vinegar and cider vinegar is considered a combination of the products that should be labeled with the product names in the order of predominance. It is also the product made by the two-fold fermentation of a mixture of alcohol and cider stock.
- Rice or rice wine vinegar (although not part of FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide) has increased in popularity over the past several years and is made by the two-fold fermentation of sugars from rice or a concentrate of rice without distillation. Seasoned rice or rice wine vinegars are made from rice with the “seasoning” ingredients noted on the label.
- Balsamic vinegar (also not a part of FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide) continues to grow in market share and “traditional” and “commercial” forms are available. The products are made from the juice of grapes, and some juice is subjected to an alcoholic and subsequent acetic fermentation and some to concentration or heating. See the “Today’s Vinegar” section of the website for more information regarding Traditional and Commercial Balsamic Vinegar.
Can I Make My Own Vinegar?
If you attempt to make vinegar at home, we are sure you’ll develop an appreciation for the difficulty of this ancient art and science. Be careful. While homemade vinegar can be good for dressing salads and general purpose usage, its acidity may not be adequate for safe use in pickling and canning. Unless you are certain the acidity is at least four percent, don’t pickle or can with it.
What is “Mother”?
“Mother” of vinegar will naturally occur in vinegar products as the result of the vinegar bacteria itself. Mother is actually cellulose (a natural carbohydrate which is the fiber in foods like celery and lettuce) produced by the harmless vinegar bacteria. Today, most manufacturers pasteurize their product before bottling to prevent these bacteria from forming “mother” while sitting on the retail shelf.
After opening, you may notice “mother” beginning to form. Vinegar containing “mother” is not harmful or spoiled. Just remove the substance by filtering and continue to enjoy the product.
How Long Does Vinegar Last?
The Vinegar Institute conducted studies to find out and confirmed that vinegar’s shelf life is almost indefinite. Because of its acid nature, vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. And, while some changes can be observed in other types of vinegars, such as color changes or the development of a haze or sediment, this is only an aesthetic change. The product can still be used and enjoyed with confidence.
Is “Acetic Acid” the Same Thing as Vinegar?
No. The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes that diluted acetic acid is not vinegar, indicating that it is:
“misleading if the labeling of a food in which acetic acid is used implies or suggests that the food contains or was not prepared with vinegar. Acetic acid should not be substituted for vinegar in pickled foods, which consumers customarily expect to be prepared with vinegar.”
Does Vinegar Have Calories or Fat?
Most vinegars contain insignificant amounts of some or all of the mandatory nutrients required in nutrition labeling. Nutrition labeling is not required if the product contains insignificant amounts of all of the following components (calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron) as outlined in the Chapter 21, Section 101.9(j)(4) of the United States Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations. Most vinegars have less than 3 calories per tablespoon and no fat. Seasoned vinegars may contain more calories due to the added ingredients. Check the label of your favorite vinegar product to determine the nutrition information for that product.
How Strong is the Vinegar You Can Buy at Retail?
The strength of vinegar is measured by the percent of acetic acid present in the product. All vinegar sold in the United States at the retail level should be at least 4% acidity as mandated by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Typical white distilled vinegar is at least 4% acidity and not more than 7%. Cider and wine vinegars are typically slightly more acidic with approximately 5-6% acidity.
How Can Vinegar Clean My Counters and Flavor My Pickles?
The acid in vinegar cuts through the grease and germs on your counter tops and is also the ingredient that makes your favorite pickles so tart and safe to eat by inhibiting bacteria and mold. See the “Uses and Tips” section of the website for other ideas for using this versatile product.