Herb-Flavored Vinegars

Discover the ancient story of vinegar, plus learn how to infuse your own herbal vinegars at home.

| August/September 2012

  • Use basil in our delicious, flavor-packed Creamy Herb Dressing.
    Photo by yukibockle
  • The old-fashioned way to make vinegar is a slow, natural process. But modern technology has sped it up.
    Photo by inacio pires
  • Making your own herbal vinegars may not change your life, but it can certainly transform your culinary habits, as they can be used in virtually every aspect of cooking.
    Photo by Monster
  • The earliest written references acknowledge wine and vinegar made from dates being commonplace as a medicine in Babylonia, circa 5000 B.C.
    Photo by Monster
  • The possibilities with herbal vinegars are nearly endless. Try our time-tested combinations to yield delicious results.
    Photo by erkanupan

The origin of vinegar is one of those fortunate happenstances never specifically noted in any historical record. Among the oldest foods and medicines known to humans, its discovery most likely occurred about 10,000 years ago, concurrent with the advent of wine, as vinegar is the natural next step after alcoholic fermentation. California winemaker August Sebastiani has been quoted as saying, “God is trying to make vinegar. It is the winemaker’s job to stay his hand.” In the centuries before wine production was perfected, much of the wine inevitably became vinegar. In fact, the French wine port of Orléans became known for its vinegar in the 14th century because of the frequency of this occurrence.

Along the course of history a variety of applications evolved for this remarkable liquid, and vinegar found use as a means of enhancing the flavor of foods; as a preservative; and as a curative and cosmetic. Before the advent of modern technology, vinegar (in addition to salt brine) was an important way of preserving food. The acidic nature of vinegar slows down the growth of harmful bacteria in foods.

The ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have kept quantities of vinegar in their cellars, particularly prizing Egyptian vinegar. They used vinegar for cooking—steeping vegetables and marinating meat to tenderize and add flavor; making pickles; and preserving herbs, flowers and vegetables.

Bowls filled with vinegar were placed on dining tables for dipping bread during meals, a use mentioned in the Old Testament in the Book of Ruth, where it is noted that the reapers soaked their bread in vinegar to freshen it. Vinegar is mentioned in the Bible almost as many times as wine.

By the 13th century, a wide selection of vinegars—including flavored vinegars with clove, chicory, fennel, ginger, truffle, raspberry, mustard and garlic—was commonly sold by street vendors in Paris. Today vinegar is an indispensible kitchen staple, whether used with olive oil as a dip for crusty bread or combined with herbs and oil to dress a salad.

Healthy Salad Dressing Recipes

Citrus Dressing
Creamy Herb Dressing 

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