All About Vinegar The world's oldest cooking ingredient may just be vinegar. According to The Vinegar Institute, vinegar's history can be traced back over 10,000 years. In fact, flavored vinegars have been manufactured and sold for almost 5,000 years. And the wide variety of vinegars available today is nothing new. The Babylonians were making and selling gourmet vinegars flavored with fruit, honey, malt, and more.
Vinegar is the result of a conversion by bacteria of alcoholic solutions in acetic acid. The word is derived from the French vin ("wine") and aigre ("sour"). Of course, vinegar is much more than "wine gone bad." There are three methods of making vinegar: the slow process, the generator process, and the submerged process. Homemade vinegar uses a starter called "mother of vinegar."
Vinegar varieties vary greatly from country to country. These are some of the most popular:
Balsamic vinegar is brown in color with a sweet-sour flavor. It is made from the white Trebbiano grape and aged in barrels of various woods. Some gourmet Balsamic vinegars are over 100 years old.
Cane vinegar is made from fermented sugarcane and has a very mild, rich-sweet flavor. It is most commonly used in Philippine cooking.
Champagne vinegar has no bubbles. It's made from a still, dry white wine made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes (both of which are used to make Champagne).
Cider vinegar is made from apples and is the most popular vinegar used for cooking in the United States.
Coconut vinegar is low in acidity, with a musty flavor and a unique aftertaste. It is used in many Thai dishes.
Distilled vinegar is a harsh vinegar made from grains and is usually colorless. It is best used only for pickling.
Malt vinegar is very popular in England. It's made from fermented barley and grain mash, and flavored with woods such as beech or birch. It has a hearty flavor and is often served with fish and chips. Rice wine vinegar has been made by the Chinese for over 5,000 years. There are three kinds of rice wine vinegar: red (used as a dip for foods and as a condiment in soups), white (used mostly in sweet and sour dishes), and black (common in stir-fries and dressings).
Sherry vinegar is aged under the full heat of the sun in wooden barrels and has a nutty-sweet taste. Wine vinegar can be made from white, red, or rose wine. These vinegars make the best salad dressings.
There are many other types of vinegar, including those made from honey, potato, date, various fruits and berries, nuts, and more. You may want to purchase small amounts of these and try them for the fun of it.
Using Vinegar: Unopened vinegar will keep indefinitely. Once opened, store in a cool, dark place. The refrigerator is a good place for vinegars that aren't often used.
To perk up bean soups, add a little vinegar during the last five minutes of cooking.
When cooking cabbage, a little vinegar in the water will help to decrease the cabbage odor.
To keep the color in red cabbage, add a little vinegar to the water at the start of cooking.
If a recipe calls for buttermilk and there is none in the house, add 1-tablespoon of vinegar to 1-cup of milk and let stand before using.
Substitution: Lemon juice can substitute for vinegar in most recipes.
Nutrition: Vinegar contains mostly flavor, though it also contains some minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.
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