Homemade vinegar is one of those unusual but easy projects that the whole family can get behind. All you really have to do is stir and wait. What could be simpler?
I have been making my own red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and malt vinegar from scratch for many years. The process for fruit vinegar is a little different though.
Finding good home fermentation information used to be very difficult. Thank goodness for the 2012 book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, fermentation expert extraordinaire. Although the book directions are for pineapple vinegar, I make peach vinegar because I have an excess of peaches growing in the back yard. However, the same process can be used to make any kind of fruit vinegar. You can use fruit scraps – things like fruit peels, over-ripe fruit, and fruit pulp leftover from making jelly or juice. Just don’t use any fruit that is spoiled. Soft or bruised is ok, rotting is not.
Just like a loaf of homemade bread bears little resemblance to commercially prepared bread, home fermented fruit vinegars are distant cousins to the more readily assessable flavored vinegars. Grocery store raspberry or peach or blueberry vinegars are usually made by steeping berries or herbs in white vinegar. Tasty, but they lack the depth of flavor that we get from a fermented fruit vinegar. Fermented fruit vinegars get their flavor from the extended fermentation process itself. Each fruit lends its own personality to vinegar. Peach vinegar is mild and delicate. A plum or blueberry vinegar is more assertive. A mango or pineapple vinegar falls somewhere in between.
Basically, fermentation is bacteria or yeasts break down sugars. The by-product of this breakdown is alcohol. The chemistry is much more involved than this brief explanation, but luckily we don’t have to have an in-depth understanding of fermentation to make vinegar.
What Is The Difference Between Wine And Vinegar?
If you have ever opened a bottle of wine with a dry cork, you recognize the relationship between wine and vinegar! Vinegar develops when the alcohol is exposed to air. You can think of it as a continuum; bacteria acts on sugar to cause fermentation, resulting in alcohol. Continued exposure to air keeps that process going until the alcohol is “changed” into acetic acid. Acetic acid is the chemical designation for vinegar.
This continuum is why it is quicker to make wine or malt vinegar at home; we start out with the alcohol. Therefore it only has to undergo the transition to vinegar. But when making vinegar from fruit scraps, we are fermenting first to produce the alcohol by-product, and then changing that by-product into vinegar. Even though it takes longer, the process is still simple.
• 1-3 cups of fruit peels, pulp, or chopped fresh fruit
• 4 cups water
• 1½ cups sugar
1. Place clean chopped fruit, fruit peels, and/or pulp in a medium sized bowl.
2. Dissolve sugar in the water.
3. Pour water over the fruit, and stir to combine. Cover bowl with cheesecloth, paper towel, or coffee filter. Let sit in a warm place for about a week, or until mixture darkens.
4. Strain out the fruit, re-cover and let the liquid sit another 2 to 4 weeks, stirring occasionally. Taste to make sure the mixture has fermented enough to get that vinegar taste.
Stabilize The Vinegar
1. Heat the vinegar to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Watch carefully, if heated over 160 degrees the acetic acid will evaporate.
2. Pour the vinegar into decorative bottles. Add oak chips to each bottle for additional flavor.
3. Plug bottles with caps, corks, or plastic tops. Label with type and date and let age in a cool, dark place for 6 months to fully develop flavor.
Note: Bottles, caps, oak chips, and plastic top tasting corks can all be purchased at a brewing or wine making supply store. Decorative bottles can be purchased at craft supply stores.
Peach vinegar can be used much like Champagne vinegar, as a delicate dressing for greens. It is also delicious splashed over roasted vegetables or baked fish, and makes a unique gift.
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This
Renee Pottle is an author, Family and Consumer Scientist, and Master Food Preserver. She writes about canning, baking, and urban homesteading at Seed to Pantry.
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