Shake it Up
To a chemist, it’s acetic acid that can be made on an industrial scale. To a chef, it’s an age old classic ingredient that can be fermented from wine, beer or cider and made in small batches by artisan brewers or by leading commercial producers. We’re talking about vinegar, a stalwart of every kitchen and dining table for centuries. Here’s Take Stock’s definitive guide to this amazing condiment.
What is vinegar made from?
The word vinegar comes from the French vin (wine) and aigre (sour). But it’s not just grapes that form the basic ingredient of vinegars. Indeed, vinegar can be made from any fruit, or any produce containing sugar – so the list includes cane sugar, coconut, dates, rice, honey and even wood pulp. Vinegar is the result of a 2-stage fermentation process. The first stage involves the fermentation of sugar to alcohol using yeast, rather like making beer or wine. The sugar has to come from a natural source; grapes for wine vinegar, apples for cider vinegar, and barley for malt vinegar. The second stage involves converting the fermented alcohol to acetic acid using a specific type of bacteria.
Popular types of vinegar
Malt – made by malting barley, which turns the starch in the grain into maltose. Ale is then brewed from the maltose and converted to vinegar using specialised bacteria. Malt vinegar is typically light brown in colour but malt extract is added to give a darker colour.
Non-brewed condiment – often found in fish and chip shops, this is not malt vinegar but a mixture of chemically-produced acetic acid, water, flavouring and caramel colouring.
Why you should offer your customers the ‘real thing’
Last year Sarson’s carried out research with over 500 chip shop devotees and found that 90% of respondents said they prefer to see condiment brands they know and trust when eating out, while 75% said that they actually perceived a chippy to be of better quality if there were branded condiments on offer. The research also uncovered that nine out of 10 respondents would prefer their chips to be sprinkled with Sarson’s Malt Vinegar rather than a non-brewed condiment – a ‘vinegar substitute’.
“Consumers care more than ever about the quality and provenance of the food they eat and equally want condiment brands they know and trust,” says Craig Dillon, national account controller at Mizkan. “It may not be high end fine dining, but we know that chippies up and down the country are some of the biggest advocates of responsible, sustainable sourcing and traceability. This is a passionate and proud community who hold quality in the highest regard. A product like Sarson’s is the natural choice for them and their customers.”
How else can you use vinegar?
Apple/Cider – made from cider or apple must, which is reflected in its cider colour. Often sold as a natural product, being unfiltered and unpasteurized and with mother of vinegar present. It can be diluted with water or fruit juice as a health drink, sometimes sweetened with honey.
Balsamic – the Rolls-Royce of vinegars, exclusively produced in the Province of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Made with must of white Trebbiano grapes, simmered to make a concentrate. Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged for between 12 and 25 years in successively smaller wooden casks to produce a dark brown (almost black) vinegar with a rich, sweet taste. True balsamic is expensive. Always look for ‘Tradizionale’ or ‘DOC’ on the label – your guarantee that it’s the genuine article.
Sherry – historically linked to the production of the sherries of Jerez, Spain, this is a dark mahogany coloured vinegar with concentrated flavours developed through fermentation in old sherry casks. Fantastic for vinaigrettes!
Red and White Wine – the most commonly used vinegar in Central and Southern Europe. Made with white or red wine, qualities vary considerably, with the best being matured in wooden casks for up to two years, in which time they develop a complex, mellow flavour. More expensive wine vinegars are made from just one grape variety, the less expensive ones from a mixture.
Rice – a key ingredient in many Oriental cuisines from Japan and China to Southeast Asia, rice vinegar comes in white, red and black varieties and can be seasoned with spices and other flavourings. Most widely used is light white rice vinegar, a favourite in Japan for salads and pickled vegetables. Made from black glutinous rice, black rice vinegar is a key ingredient in achieving the ‘umami’ flavour in East Asia’s most popular dishes.
Spirit – produced by fermentation of distilled alcohol, ‘white’ or ‘virgin’ vinegar is essentially 5%-8% acetic acid in water. Used in cooking and pickling as well as for medicinal, industrial and cleaning purposes.