In my opinion, vinegar might be one of the most overlooked, but most important, kitchen ingredients and also household tools.
What is Vinegar?
Vinegar is an acidic liquid produced through fermentation and is used for cooking but also for chemical properties.
There are over 100 types of vinegar throughout the world and it is one of the few ingredients that is present in nearly all ethnic cuisines.
How Is Vinegar Made?
Vinegar is made through the fermentation of ethanol alcohol. Any ingredient containing ethanol may be used to make vinegar, including distilled grain alcohol, wine, champagne, beer or cider, each lending its own unique flavor.
Acetic acid is what makes vinegar, well vinegar, and gives it the acidic taste. Much like having a sourdough starter or scobies for kombucha, the bacterial culture used to ferment the ethanol is referred to as the “mother of vinegar.”
Commercial vinegar is them pasteurized (heat-treated) to kill the bacterial cultures which can form into a globby mess if not treated. If you see a bottle labeled “raw” then it has not been pasteurized.
Vinegar for Cooking
As mentioned above, vinegar is seen in nearly every worldly cuisine and has been used for thousands of years. The flavor is best described as sour and tangy, but will vary based on the type of vinegar.
It is essential for balancing flavors like creamy and fatty flavors. It is also known to brighten dishes likes soups and dressings.
Vinegar is also used in baking. Its low pH is often used to activate the leaveners in baking soda. When baking soda is combined with an acid, it produces gas that makes pockets in dough and batters, resulting in light and fluffy textures.
It is also one of the most popular ingredients in marinades for protein like chicken, beef and pork because the acid tenderizes meat by chemically breaking the down the fibers.
Vinegar is also used like wines to deglaze pans.
Types of Vinegar
As mentioned above, there are 100+ varieties of vinegar, but the most popular are:
Balsamic Vinegar– Sour and sweet with relatively low acid, balsamic is perfect by itself for salads and vegetables. When reduced, it makes a sticky and sweet balsamic reduction sauce that is perfect for both savory and sweet dishes.
White Vinegar- The most basic of vinegars, this one is light and sour. It is best in marinades and and for more delicate sauces.
Cider Vinegar- Perfect for quickly picking items like onions and other veggies, cider vinegar is also light and pairs well with fruits and veggies. It is made from fermented apple juice, so this makes sense.
Malt Vinegar– Most popular as a dipping sauce, malt vinegar is made from ale, which is made from differing malts, which is how it gets its name. While you can certainly cook with it, it is most commonly used for dipping and soaking on French fries and fish and chips.
Red Wine Vinegar– Made from wine, this one is also popular in marinades, for pickling and in dressings. It has a higher acidity so a little goes a long way.
Rice Wine Vinegar– You guessed it, made from rice wine, and most commonly seen in Asian dishes, it is a subtle, but sweet acidity.
Sherry Vinegar– One of my favorites! It is made from sherry, which is a fortified wine. It is mild, but also sweet. I like in salad dressing with fresh herbs where the other flavor profiles won’t over power it.
Vinegar For Cleaning
Vinegar is a great choice as a green cleaning agent. For most uses, mix a solution of ½ cup of white distilled vinegar to a half gallon of warm water and either mop or use in a spray bottle.
It disinfects and also deodorizes. It can be used on counters, floors (unwaxed only), to remove scum in the shower and unclog shower heads, full strength kills weed and unwanted grass, as a rinse for hair and scalp build up and to clean the inside plumbing of coffee makers.
Vinegar is basically indestructible. Since it is naturally resistant to bacteria, if kept in a cool, dark place, it won’t spoil.
However, if you have raw vinegar (unpasteurized) it will continue to grow the globby bacteria, but this is not harmful. It can be refrigerated to slow the process.