How to Make Vinegar at Home

If you’ve wondered how to make vinegar at home, you’ll find everything you need to know right here. Homemade vinegar lets you control quality at every step of the process.


| February/March 2014



Vinegar Starters

Commercial vinegar starters are available online and give the best results.

Photo by Tim Nauman

In Ruhlman’s Twenty, food writer Michael Ruhlman asserts that acid is second only to salt for elevating the flavors of your cooking. Just a few drops of acid in the form of citrus or vinegar can make a dish more complex — “brighter,” as Ruhlman says. To explore the power of acid, he suggests making a cream of broccoli soup and tasting it. Then stir in a drop of white wine vinegar and taste it again.

Ruhlman says the kind of vinegar you have doesn’t matter as much as the quality, and one way to ensure high-quality vinegars is to make and age them yourself. The DIY approach also saves money, as top-notch vinegars are pricey.

The options for using homemade vinegar are nearly endless. To make a simple sauce for meat or vegetables, bring vinegar to a rapid boil and reduce by about half. Add vinegar to braising liquids to tenderize meats. Vinegar also preserves foods — think dill pickles. And, of course, vinegar has many uses outside the kitchen. (Read 20 Uses for Vinegar from our sister publication Mother Earth Living.)

What Is Vinegar?

The French word vinaigre means “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. (To avoid getting vinegar instead of wine, you should store your vinegar-making projects far away from your homebrew batches.)

If a liquid has fermentable sugars or alcohol in it, the liquid can be turned into vinegar. Wine makes wine vinegar, cider makes cider vinegar and beer makes malt vinegar. Your kitchen is well-stocked if you have wine, cider, and possibly malt and sherry vinegars.

When alcohol is exposed to oxygen, it is transformed by aerobic (oxygen-loving) acetobacter bacteria into acetic acid, more commonly known as vinegar. The ubiquitous acetobacter bacteria 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 both 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.





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