Spirited Vinegars

Herbs, fruit, flowers,and flavor

| June/July 1997

  • Peaches, basil, and cinnamon—a charismatic blend of flavors for a white wine vinegar


With my ever-expanding herb, ­edible flower and fruit garden, the choices for flavored vinegars seem to expand ­exponentially each year. Yet there are some combinations that I continually return to. The proportions within the combinations may vary, depending on my supply, but I keep to my rule of 2 parts vinegar to 1 part herbs and ­flowers.

Here are some recipes to get you started, but remember that flavoring vinegars is really a matter of personal choice. Refer to the chart at left for more combinations, varying the ingredient proportions to suit your tastes. Jot down the ingredients and amounts that you use in a notebook and compare them in a variety of dishes so that you can repeat your favorites.

One of the joys of growing and using herbs is the connection and continuity it provides. For example, when I pick and use sage, I know that others have cooked with it for thousands of years, to say nothing of using it to promote wisdom, long life, and good health. So, too, is the connection I feel with vinegar. To some, vinegar may be just a sharp-tasting liquid for pickles and salads, but for me, vinegar not only opens history’s doors, but also improves the flavors of many foods and provides a creative outlet for using herbs, spices, fruits, flowers, and vegetables. Herb and flower vinegars soften my skin and hair, offer a safe, all-purpose household cleaner, and make great gifts besides.

Among the oldest foods and medicines known to man, vinegar is one of those provident occurrences without written record of its first appearance. Since vinegar is the next natural step after alcoholic fermentation, no doubt it occurred when someone let wine sit too long. We do know that the earliest written references to wine and vinegar were about 5,000 b.c., with vinegar a commonplace medicine in Babylonia at that time. Over the centuries, vinegar became indispensable as a way to preserve and enhance foods as well as a curative and cosmetic.

Today, vinegar may not be considered essential in daily life, but a trip to the supermarket shows that it still holds great appeal. Even the most modest grocery will have plain distilled, apple cider, and red and white wine vinegars, while gourmet shops will have any number of flavored vinegars, none of which can compare to what herb gardeners have been making for years. Amazingly easy to make, flavored vinegars are often the first project for beginning herb garden­ers, yet even seasoned herb gardeners continue to make them because they have merit beyond ease. Redolent with herbs and other flavorings, these vinegars offer an opportunity for creativity both in the making and in the using.

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