Make Vinegar at Home

One way to ensure that you get high-quality vinegar at an affordable price is to make and age it at home.

| September/October 2017

  • You can use your homemade vinegar as is, or infuse it with some herbs or spices.
    Photo by iStock/GMVozd

One way to ensure we’ve got high-quality vinegars is to make and age them ourselves. The DIY approach requires very little effort and saves money, as good vinegars are pricey.

The word vinegar comes from the old French vin egre meaning “sour wine.” In Wild Fermentation, author and fermentation expert Sandor Katz writes that his experience with vinegar-making began as winemaking gone awry. “Vinegar is an excellent consolation for your winemaking failure,” he writes.

Any liquid with fermentable sugars or alcohol in it can be turned into vinegar. Wine makes wine vinegar, cider makes cider vinegar and beer makes malt vinegar. When alcohol is exposed to oxygen, it is transformed by oxygen-loving acetobacter bacteria into acetic acid, more commonly known as vinegar. The ubiquitous acetobacter in the air find the alcohol in loosely covered wine, cider or beer and go to work. Katz says the simplest method — albeit sometimes faulty — to make alcohol and vinegar is to let unpasteurized apple cider sit for a week until it becomes alcoholic, and then let it sit for another couple of weeks until it becomes vinegar.

To ensure your fermentation creates flavorful vinegar, however, it’s best to use a starter, also called a “mother of vinegar.” The mother is a gelatinous mass of vinegar-making organisms that forms naturally in vinegar. You can order a starter that will clump together and form a mother during fermentation. Add the starter (or mother) to a new batch of alcohol — wine, cider or beer — and leave it there until the vinegar tastes right to you, at which point you may remove the mother and use it for a new batch.

Step-by-Step Process

1. Gather Your Vessel. Use a wide-mouth crock, glass jar, food-grade plastic bucket, wooden cask or other non-metal container (vinegar corrodes metal). Don’t fill the container more than half-full, to maximize the surface area ratio.

2. Gather Your Starter. You can get a mother of vinegar from wine and beer supply shops or online from Etsy. You can also borrow a starter from a bottle of store-bought vinegar that contains the mother, such as Bragg organic apple cider vinegar.

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