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All about vinegars

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A variety of flavoured vinegars on sale in France (bottom rows)

Vinegar is a liquid consisting mainly of acetic acid (CH3COOH) and water. The acetic acid is produced by the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Vinegar is now mainly used as a cooking ingredient. Historically, as the most easily available mild acid, it had a great variety of industrial, medical and domestic uses, some of which (such as its use as a general household cleanser) are still promoted today.

Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. In general, slow methods are used with traditional vinegars, and fermentation proceeds slowly over the course of months or a year. The longer fermentation period allows for the accumulation of a nontoxic slime composed of acetic acid bacteria. Fast methods add mother of vinegar (bacterial culture) to the source liquid before adding air to oxygenate and promote the fastest fermentation. In fast production processes, vinegar may be produced in 20 hours to three days.


Apple cider
Apple cider vinegar is made from cider or apple must, and has a brownish-gold colour. It is often sold unfiltered and unpasteurized with the mother of vinegar present, as a natural product. It is often diluted with fruit juice or water, or sweetened (usually with honey) for consumption as a health beverage.

Balsamic vinegar is an aromatic aged vinegar produced in the Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy. The original product—Traditional Balsamic Vinegar—is made from the concentrated juice, or must, of white Trebbiano grapes. It is very dark brown, rich, sweet, and complex, with the finest grades being aged in successive casks made variously of oak, mulberry, chestnut, cherry, juniper and ash wood. Originally a costly product available to only the Italian upper classes, traditional balsamic vinegar is marked "tradizionale" or "DOC" to denote its Protected Designation of Origin status, and is aged for 12 to 25 years. A cheaper non-DOC commercial form described as "aceto balsamico di Modena" (balsamic vinegar of Modena) became widely known and available around the world in the late 20th century, typically made with concentrated grape juice mixed with a strong vinegar, then coloured and slightly sweetened with caramel and sugar.

Regardless of how it is produced, balsamic vinegar must be made from a grape product. It contains no balsam fruit. A high acidity level is somewhat hidden by the sweetness of the other ingredients, making it very mellow.

Vinegar made from beer is produced in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. Although its flavour depends on the particular type of beer from which it is made, it is often described as having a malty taste. That produced in Bavaria is a light golden colour with a very sharp and not-overly-complex flavour.

Cane vinegar, made from sugarcane juice, is most popular in the Philippines, in particular, the Ilocos Region of the northern Philippines (where it is called sukang iloko), although it also is produced in France and the United States. It ranges from dark yellow to golden brown in colour, and has a mellow flavour, similar in some respects to rice vinegar, though with a somewhat "fresher" taste. Because it contains no residual sugar, it is no sweeter than any other vinegar. In the Philippines, it often is labeled as sukang maasim (Tagalog for "sour vinegar").

Cane vinegars from Ilocos are made in two different ways. One way is to simply place sugar cane juice in large jars and it will directly become sour by the direct action of bacteria on the sugar. The other way is through fermentation to produce a local wine known as basi. Low-quality basi is then allowed to undergo acetic acid fermentation that converts alcohol into acetic acid. Contaminated basi also becomes vinegar.

A white variation has become quite popular in Brazil in recent years, where it is the cheapest type of vinegar sold. It is now common for other types of vinegar (made from wine, rice and apple cider) to be sold mixed with cane vinegar to lower the cost.

Sugarcane sirka is made from sugarcane juice in Punjab, India. During summer, the people put cane juice in earthenware pots with iron nails. The fermentation takes place due to action of wild yeast. The cane juice is converted to vinegar having a blackish colour. The sirka is used to preserve pickles and for flavouring curries.

Coconut vinegar, made from fermented coconut water or sap, is used extensively in Southeast Asian cuisine (as in the Philippines), as well as in some cuisines of India, especially Goan cuisine. A cloudy white liquid, it has a particularly sharp, acidic taste with a slightly yeasty note.

Vinegar made from dates is a traditional product of the Middle East.

The term "distilled vinegar" is something of a misnomer, because it is not produced by distillation but by fermentation of distilled alcohol. The fermentate is diluted to produce a colourless solution of 5% to 8% acetic acid in water, with a pH of about 2.4. This is variously known as distilled spirit, "virgin" vinegar, or white vinegar, and is used in cooking, baking, meat preservation, and pickling, as well as medicinal, laboratory, and cleaning purposes. The most common starting material in some regions, because of its low cost, is malt; in the United States, corn (maize), such as the Heinz brand. It is sometimes derived from petroleum.

East Asian black

Chinese black vinegar

Chinese black vinegar is an aged product made from rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, or a combination thereof. It has an inky black colour and a complex, malty flavour. There is no fixed recipe, so some Chinese black vinegars may contain added sugar, spices, or caramel colour. The most popular variety, Zhenjiang vinegar, originates in the city of Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province, eastern China. Shanxi mature vinegar is another popular type of Chinese vinegar that is made exclusively from sorghum and other grains. Nowadays in Shanxi province, there are still some traditional vinegar workshops producing handmade vinegar which aged for at least five years with a high acidity. Only the vinegar made in Taiyuan and some counties in Jinzhong and aged for at least three years is considered authentic Shanxi mature vinegar according to the latest national standard  of Shanxi mature vinegar.

A somewhat lighter form of black vinegar, made from rice, is produced in Japan, where it is called kurozu. Since 2004, it has been marketed as a healthful drink; its manufacturers claim it contains high concentrations of amino acids. Recent research on kurozu has revealed its anticancer properties in vivo on rats. and in vitro on human cancer cells.


Persimmon vinegar produced in South Korea

Fruit vinegars are made from fruit wines, usually without any additional flavouring. Common flavours of fruit vinegar include apple, blackcurrant, raspberry, quince, and tomato. Typically, the flavours of the original fruits remain in the final product.

Most fruit vinegars are produced in Europe, where there is a growing market for high-price vinegars made solely from specific fruits (as opposed to non-fruit vinegars that are infused with fruits or fruit flavours). Several varieties, however, also are produced in Asia.

Vinegar made from honey is rare, although commercially available honey vinegars are produced in Italy, France, Romania, and Spain.

Job's tears
In Japan, an aged vinegar also is made from Job's tears, a tall, grain-bearing, tropical plant. The vinegar is similar in flavour to rice vinegar.

A byproduct of commercial kiwifruit growing is a large amount of waste in the form of misshapen or otherwise-rejected fruit (which may constitute up to 30 percent of the crop) and kiwifruit pomace, the presscake residue left after kiwifruit juice manufacture. One of the uses for this waste is the production of kiwifruit vinegar, produced commercially in New Zealand since at least the early 1990s, and in China in 2008.

Kombucha vinegar is made from kombucha, a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. The bacteria produce a complex array of nutrients and populate the vinegar with bacteria that some claim promote a healthy digestive tract, although no scientific studies have confirmed this. Kombucha vinegar primarily is used to make a vinaigrette, and is flavoured by adding strawberries, blackberries, mint, or blueberries at the beginning of fermentation.

Malt vinegar, also called Alegar, is made by malting barley, causing the starch in the grain to turn to maltose. Then an ale is brewed from the maltose and allowed to turn into vinegar, which is then aged. It is typically light-brown in colour. In the United Kingdom and Canada, malt vinegar (along with salt) is a traditional seasoning for fish and chips, but some commercial fish and chip shops will use non-brewed condiment.

Palm vinegar, made from the fermented sap from flower clusters of the nipa palm (also called attap palm), is used most often in the Philippines, where it is produced, and where it is called sukang paombong. It has a citrusy flavour note to it and imparts a distinctly musky aroma. Its pH is between five and six.


Raisin vinegar produced in Turkey

Vinegar made from raisins, called khall ʻinab (Arabic: "grape vinegar") is used in cuisines of the Middle East, and is produced there. It is cloudy and medium brown in colour, with a mild flavour.

Rice vinegar is most popular in the cuisines of East and Southeast Asia. It is available in "white" (light yellow), red, and black varieties. The Japanese prefer a light rice vinegar for the preparation of sushi rice and salad dressings. Red rice vinegar traditionally is coloured with red yeast rice. Black rice vinegar (made with black glutinous rice) is most popular in China, and it is also widely used in other East Asian countries.

White rice vinegar has a mild acidity with a somewhat "flat" and uncomplex flavour. Some varieties of rice vinegar are sweetened or otherwise seasoned with spices or other added flavourings.


Sherry vinegar

Sherry vinegar is linked to the production of sherrywines of Jerez. Dark-mahogany in colour, it is made exclusively from the acetic fermentation of wines. It is concentrated and has generous aromas, including a note of wood, ideal for vinaigrettes and flavouring various foods.

The term 'spirit vinegar' is sometimes reserved for the stronger variety (5% to 21% acetic acid) made from sugar cane or from chemically produced acetic acid.

Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine, and is the most commonly used vinegar in Southern and Central Europe. As with wine, there is a considerable range in quality. Better-quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years, and exhibit a complex, mellow flavour. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than white or cider vinegars. More expensive wine vinegars are made from individual varieties of wine, such as champagne, sherry, or pinot gris.


Vinegar is commonly used in food preparation, in particular in pickling processes, vinaigrettes, and other salad dressings. It is an ingredient in sauces such as mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. Vinegar is sometimes used while making chutneys. It is often used as a condiment. Marinades often contain vinegar. In terms of its shelf life, vinegar's acidic nature allows it to last indefinitely without the use of refrigeration.

  • Condiment for beetroot – cold, cooked beetroot is commonly eaten with vinegar and other ingredients
  • Condiment for fish and chips (UK: chips; US: French fries) – in Britain, Ireland, Canada and Australia, salt and malt vinegar is sprinkled on chips. In Canada, white vinegar is also often used.
  • Flavouring for potato chips (UK: potato crisps; US: potato chips) – many American, Canadian, British and Australian manufacturers of packaged potato chips include a variety flavoured with vinegar and salt.
  • Vinegar pie – a North American variant on the dessert called chess pie. It is flavoured with a small amount of cider vinegar and some versions also contain raisins, spices and sour cream.
  • Pickling – any vinegar can be used to pickle foods.
  • Cider vinegar and sauces – cider vinegar usually is not suitable for use in delicate sauces.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Usually placed on the table in small bowls or cups so that people can dip their crab meat into it. Also mixed with water and used to steam crabs.
  • Substitute for fresh lemon juice – cider vinegar can usually be substituted for fresh lemon juice in recipes and obtain a pleasing effect although it lacks the vitamin C.
  • Saucing roast lamb – pouring cider vinegar over the meat when roasting lamb, especially when combined with honey or when sliced onions have been added to the roasting pan, produces a sauce.
  • Sweetened vinegar is used in the dish of pork knuckles and ginger stew, which is made among Chinese people of Cantonese backgrounds to celebrate the arrival of a new child.
  • Sushi rice – Japanese use rice vinegar as an essential ingredient for sushi rice.
  • Red vinegar – Sometimes used in Chinese soups.
  • Flavouring – used in the Southern U.S. to flavour collard greens, green beans, black-eyed peas, or cabbage to taste.
  • Commonly put into mint sauce, for general palate preference.
  • Vinegar – especially the coconut, cane, or palm variety – is one of the principal ingredients of Philippine cuisine.
  • White vinegar can be used as flavouring in ham and beans.
  • It is used in the making of Escovitch fish (Tilapia, Snapper etc.).

Several beverages are made using vinegar, for instance Posca. Other preparations range from simply mixing sugar water or honey water with small amounts of fruity vinegar to making syrup by laying fruit or mint in vinegar essence for several days, then sieving off solid parts, and adding considerable amounts of sugar. Some prefer to also boil the result as a final step. These recipes have lost much of their popularity with the rise of carbonated beverages, such as soft drinks.

Many remedies and treatments have been ascribed to vinegar over millennia and in many different cultures; however, few have been verifiable using controlled medical trials and many that are effective to some degree have significant side-effects and carry the possibility of serious health risks.

Possible cholesterol and triacylglycerol effects
A 2006 study concluded that a test group of rats fed with acetic acid (the main component of vinegar) had "significantly lower values for serum total cholesterol and triacylglycerol" and other health benefits. Rats fed vinegar or acetic acid have lower blood pressure than controls, although the effect has not been tested in humans. Reduced risk of fatal ischemic heart disease was observed among human participants in a trial who ate vinegar and oil salad dressings frequently.

Blood glucose control and diabetic management
Prior to hypoglycemic agents, diabetics used vinegar teas to control their symptoms. Small amounts of vinegar (approximately 25g of domestic vinegar) added to food, or taken along with a meal, have been shown by a number of medical trials to reduce the glycemic index of carbohydrate food for people with and without diabetes. This also has been expressed as lower glycemic index ratings in the region of 30%.

Diet control
Multiple trials indicate that taking vinegar with food increases satiety (the feeling of fullness) and, so, reduces the amount of food consumed. Daily intake of 15 ml of vinegar (750 mg acetic acid) might be useful in the prevention of metabolic syndrome by reducing obesity.

Antimicrobial and medicinal
Vinegar was thought to be useful for treating infections in ancient times. Hippocrates (460–377 BC) prescribed it for curing pleurisy, fever, ulcers, and constipation; it was used by the ancient Egyptians to kill bacteria. When combined with honey to create oxymel, it was a common cough medicine in the ancient world. Vinegar also had multiple uses in ancient Babylon, where it was made from wine beginning around 5000 BC. The Babylonians used vinegar to preserve food and as a component of medicines.

Researchers at the Food Biotechnology Department, Instituto de la Grasa (CSIC) in Seville, Spain conducted research on the antimicrobial activity of several food products, including vinegar. The following microorganisms were used in the study: S. aureus, L. monocytogenes, S. Enteritidis, E.coli 0157:H7, S. sonnei, and Yersinia sp. Vinegar (5% acetic acid) showed bactericidal activity against all strains tested, which was attributed to its acidity.

The phenolic composition analysis of vinegar shows the presence of gallic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, catechin, vanillic acid, caffeic acid, syringic acid, vanillin, syringaldehyde, p-coumaric acid, m-coumaric acid, anisaldehyde, epicatechin, sinapic acid, salicylaldehyde, scopoletin, veratraldehyde and o-coumaric acid.

The active ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, can effectively kill mycobacteria, even highly drug-resistant strains. Acetic acid could therefore be used as an inexpensive and non-toxic disinfectant against drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) bacteria as well as other stubborn, disinfectant-resistant mycobacteria.

Other medicinal
Applying vinegar to common jellyfish stings deactivates the nematocysts; however, placing the affected areas in hot water is a more effective treatment because the venom is deactivated by heat. The latter requires immersion in 45 °C (113 °F) water for at least four minutes for the pain to be reduced to less than what would be accomplished using vinegar. This does not apply to the Portuguese man o' war, which, although generally considered to be a jellyfish, is not; vinegar applied to Portuguese man o' war stings can cause their nematocysts to discharge venom, making the pain worse.

Vinegar has been shown ineffective for use against lice. Combined with 60% Salicylic acid it is significantly more effective than placebo for the treatment of warts.

Contrary to popular belief, vinegar cannot be used as a detoxification agent to circumvent urinalysis testing for cannabis.

Potential hazards
Like other acids, the acetic acid in vinegar attacks the enamel of the teeth and will cause decay and sensitivity in the teeth. Like with other acids the recommendations are to minimize consumption, minimize time in the mouth, not swirl it in the mouth, and counteract the effects by using fluoride mouthwash or toothpaste.

Esophageal injury by apple cider vinegar tablets has been reported, and, because vinegar products sold for medicinal purposes are neither regulated nor standardized, they vary widely in content, pH, and other respects. Long-term heavy vinegar ingestion has one recorded case of possibly causing hypokalemia, hyperreninemia, and osteoporosis.

Cervical cancer screening tool

Diluted vinegar 3% to 5%, has also been tested as an effective screening tool for cervical cancer. Vinegar changes the colour of affected tissue to white, making diagnosis by inspection possible, reducing by 35% the mortality for early detection against control group.

In traditional Islamic medicine
Ibn Sina, in his famous eleventh-century book The Canon of Medicine, mentioned several beneficial medicinal uses for vinegar, claiming that it was a powerful clotting agent, healed burns and skin inflammations, and it relieved headaches caused by heat. He also considered vinegar a good digestive supplement. Fourteenth-century Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya also mentions the merits of vinegar in his book, Al Tibb al Nabawi (The Prophetic Medicine). In this book, he claimed that wine vinegar helps against gastric inflammation and bile, and prevents the effects of toxic medications and poisonous mushrooms.

The electrical conductivity of many materials increases as an applied external electric field increases in strength. This is known as the "second Wien effect" and Lars Onsager investigated this effect using acetic acid solutions in 1934.

White vinegar is often used as a household cleaning agent. Because it is acidic, it can dissolve mineral deposits from glass, coffee makers, and other smooth surfaces. For most uses, dilution with water is recommended for safety and to avoid damaging the surfaces being cleaned.

Vinegar is an excellent solvent for cleaning epoxy resin and hardener, even after the epoxy has begun to harden. Malt vinegar sprinkled onto crumpled newspaper is a traditional, and still-popular, method of cleaning grease-smeared windows and mirrors in the United Kingdom. Vinegar can be used for polishing brass or bronze. Vinegar is widely known as an effective cleaner of stainless steel and glass.

Vinegar has been reputed to have strong antibacterial properties. One test by Good Housekeeping's microbiologist found that 5% vinegar is 90% effective against mould and 99.9% effective against bacteria, though another study showed that vinegar is less effective than Clorox and Lysol against poliovirus. In modern times experts have advised against using vinegar as a household disinfectant against human pathogens, as it is less effective than chemical disinfectants.

Vinegar is ideal for washing produce because it breaks down the wax coating and kills bacteria and mould. The editors of Cook's Illustrated found vinegar to be the most effective and safest way to wash fruits and vegetables, beating antibacterial soap, water and just a scrub brush in removing bacteria.

Vinegar has been marketed as an environmentally-friendly solution for many household cleaning problems. For example, vinegar has been cited recently as an eco-friendly urine cleaner for pets.

Vinegar is effective in removing clogs from drains, polishing silver, copper and brass as well as ungluing sticker-type price tags. Vinegar is one of the best ways to restore colour to upholstery like curtains and carpet.

Vinegar also can help remove wallpaper. If the paper is coated with a mixture of vinegar and boiling water, it breaks down the glue for easy removal.

Agricultural and horticultural
Vinegar can be used as a herbicide. Acetic acid is not absorbed into root systems; the vinegar will kill top growth, but perennial plants may reshoot.


Most commercial vinegar solutions available to consumers for household use do not exceed 5%. Solutions above 10% require careful handling, because they are corrosive and damaging to the skin.

When a bottle of vinegar is opened, mother of vinegar may develop. It is considered harmless and can be removed by filtering.

Vinegar eels (Turbatrix aceti), a form of nematode, may occur in some forms of vinegar unless the vinegar is kept covered. These feed on the mother of vinegar and can occur in naturally fermenting vinegar.

Some countries prohibit the selling of vinegar over a certain percentage acidity. As an example, the government of Canada limits the acetic acid of vinegars to between 4.1% and 12.3%.

According to legend, in France during the Black Plague, four thieves were able to rob houses of plague victims without being infected themselves. When finally caught, the judge offered to grant the men their freedom, on the condition that they revealed how they managed to stay healthy. They claimed that a medicine woman sold them a potion made of garlic soaked in soured red wine (vinegar). Variants of the recipe, called Four Thieves Vinegar, have been passed down for hundreds of years and are a staple of New Orleans hoodoo practices.

A solution of vinegar can be used for water slide decal application as used on scale models and musical instruments, among other things. One part white distilled vinegar (5% acidity) diluted with two parts of distilled or filtered water creates a suitable solution for the application of water-slide decals to hard surfaces. The solution is very similar to the commercial products, often described as "decal softener", sold by hobby shops. The slight acidity of the solution softens the decal and enhances its flexibility, permitting the decal to cling to contours more efficiently.

When baking soda and vinegar are combined, the bicarbonate ion of the baking soda reacts to form carbonic acid, which decomposes into carbon dioxide and water.

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