Sweet and Sour
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 two-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.
How is it made?
Historically, vinegar was produced by a slow process with fermentation occuring over a period of months, and sometimes, up to a year. This long, slow fermentation allows for the natural development of acetic acid bacteria and can result in a high quality product. Brands like Sarson’s are still made using a traditional process where a bacterial culture sometimes called ‘mother of vinegar’ is added to the brewed alcohol with oxygenation to produce the vinegar. During the process the vinegar is circulated through a bed of wood wool to help mature the flavour of the finished product. Vinegar from this process can be ready for bottling in about seven days. Even faster methods have been developed, without the use of wood wool that can produce vinegar in less than one day. As no wood wool is used the vinegar produced has a less mature flavour than standard Sarson’s vinegar, which is reflected in the price. You get what you pay for!