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The origin of the word vinegar comes is French; vin (wine) and aigre (sour). Vinegar is commonly used in most households and is one of the oldest storable food items known to man. Essentially, it is “an acidic liquid obtained from the fermentation of alcohol”.

The making of vinegar is a two-step process. In the first step, yeasts react with natural sugars to make alcohol. This is called alcoholic fermentation. In the next step, a group of bacteria called ‘Acetobacter’ convert the alcohol portion to acid. This process is called acid fermentation.


Types of Vinegar

Vinegar can be made from any substance that contains sugar and, therefore, there are many different varieties. Making vinegar at home is becoming increasingly popular with many instructional books and guides available on the topic.

  • Regular white vinegar is made from distilled alcohol, which is normally made from grain.
  • Malt vinegar, popular in Great Britain, is made from barley and is typically light brown in colour. In France and other grape growing regions, wine vinegar is the most popular.
  • The famous balsamic vinegar originates from Modena, Italy, and is one of the most expensive vinegars available today. Traditional balsamic vinegar has been made for over 100 years using the same recipe. Balsamic vinegar must be at least 12 years old to qualify as “traditional balsamic vinegar”.
  • In Oriental countries, rice and rice-wine vinegar are very popular. Japanese rice vinegars are mild and pale in colour compared to Chinese-made vinegars that are stronger and vary in colour from red to many shades of brown.
  • Many varieties of vinegar are made with an infusion of herbs or fruit, such as tarragon, thyme and oregano vinegar, and raspberry, blueberry, fig, raisin and date vinegar. Cider vinegar is made from apples.

Did You Know?

  • Through the centuries vinegar has been produced from many other materials, including molasses, dates, sorghum, fruits, berries, melons, coconut, honey, beer, maple syrup, potatoes, beets, malt, grains and whey.
  • When Hannibal, the great general, crossed the Alps with an army riding elephants, it was vinegar that helped pave the way. Obstructive boulders were heated and doused with vinegar, which cracked and crumbled the barriers.
  • During the American Civil War, vinegar was used to treat scurvy, and as recently as World War I, it was being used to treat wounds.
  • Vinegar can be used as a hair conditioner as well as aftershave!
  • Bathtub film can be removed by wiping with white distilled vinegar and then with soda. Rinse clean with water.

Vinegar at Home

Due to its acidic content, vinegar has long been used as a house-hold cleaning agent. Some of its common uses as outlined in The Vinegar Institute are:

  • For windows/glass panes: Wash windows and glass panes using a mixture of equal parts of water and white distilled vinegar, and dry with a soft cloth. This will clean windows without leaving streaks.
  • For the microwave: Boiling a solution of ¼ cup vinegar and 1 cup of water in the microwave will loosen splattered food and deodorize the microwave.
  • In the bathroom: The toilet bowl can be cleaned by using distilled vinegar and brushing well. Corrosion on taps and shower heads can be removed by wrapping them overnight in a towel soaked in diluted white distilled vinegar.
  • For a steam iron: To unclog a stream iron, pour equal parts of distilled vinegar and water into the iron’s water chamber. Leave for five minutes on the steam setting.
  • In the garden: To kill grass on pavements or weeds in the garden, pour white distilled vinegar on grass/weeds. Reapply till the weeds wilt.

Uses in Health and Food

Since Babylonian times, vinegar has been credited with great health benefits and healing properties. In World War I, vinegar was used for its antiseptic properties by military medics who used it to treat wounds.

The earliest use of vinegar in the kitchen has been for pickling. Vinegar has always been used as preservative for a number of vegetables, fruits and mushrooms. Today, vinegar is widely acknowledged to help the body absorb useful nutrients from food. These days, the most common use of vinegar is in the making of salad dressings and condiments. For instance, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup are made using vinegar. Vinaigrette is made by adding olive oil, herbs and spices to balsamic vinegar. This is an extremely popular salad dressing in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

In Oriental cuisine also, vinegar is used in the preparation of sweet and sour sauces, and also as a seasoning. Vinegar is also used to tenderise meats. Marinating meats in wine vinegar and herbs enhances the flavour. For fish, adding a little bit of apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar will bring out the flavour of fried or boiled fish.

Beauty Benefits

The external application of vinegar is reputed to have positive effects on the skin and hair. For useful tips on the uses of vinegar, refer to Great Uses for Vinegar

References and Useful Websites

  • Grolier International Encyclopaedia, Vol. 19, pg 600
  • The Vinegar Institute
  • The vinegar Online Shop
  • Great Uses for Vinegar