Vinegar has been made and used for thousands of years. According to Shennong's Herb Classic, vinegar was invented in China during the Xia Dynasty, around 2000 BC. Though, traces of it have been found in Egyptian urns dating from around 3000 BC.
In the Tanakh and the Old Testament of the Bible, it is mentioned as unpleasant to drink (Ps. 69:21) and foolish to combine with nether (most likely soda ash, although possibly potash, natron, or niter) (Prov. 25:20), but more favorably as a condiment when Boaz allows Ruth to "dip her piece of bread in the vinegar" (Ruth 2:14). Jesus was offered vinegar or sour wine while on the cross (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36). In Islamic traditions, vinegar is one of the four favored condiments of the Prophet Muhammad, who called it a "Blessed seasoning".
In 1864, Louis Pasteur showed that vinegar results from a natural fermentation process.
Production and microbiologyVinegar is made from the fermentation of a variety of sources mainly containing carbohydrates and sugars. Ethanol is first produced as a result of fermentation of sugars, ethanol is then oxidized to acetic acid by the acetic acid bacteria (AAB). The ethanol may be derived from many different sources, including wine, cider, beer, or fermented fruit juice, or it may be made synthetically from natural gas and petroleum derivatives.
Aeration is a crucial step in the fermentation process. Excess air can ruin the product by complete oxidation of carbohydrates to CO2 by yeast and other aerobic bacteria, while on the other hand, too little air will lead to high concentrations of alcohol resulting in the death of the acetic acid bacteria.
Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional vinegars, and fermentation proceeds slowly over the course of weeks or months. The longer fermentation period allows for the accumulation of a nontoxic slime composed of acetic acid bacteria and soluble cellulose, known as mother of vinegar.
Fast methods add mother of vinegar (i.e., bacterial culture) to the source liquid before adding air using a venturi pump system or a turbine to promote oxygenation to obtain the fastest fermentation. In fast production processes, vinegar may be produced in a period ranging from 20 hours to three days.
MaltMalt vinegar is made by malting barley, causing the starch in the grain to turn to maltose. Then an ale is brewed from the maltose and allowed to turn into vinegar, which is then aged. It is typically light brown in color.
In the United Kingdom, salt and malt vinegar is a traditional seasoning for chips and crisps.
Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine, and is the most commonly used vinegar in Mediterranean countries and Central Europe. As with wine, there is a considerable range in quality. Better quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years, and exhibit a complex, mellow flavor. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than that of white or cider vinegars. More expensive wine vinegars are made from individual varieties of wine, such as Champagne, sherry, or pinot grigio.
Apple ciderApple cider vinegar, otherwise known simply as cider vinegar or ACV, is made from cider or apple must, and has a brownish-yellow color. It often is sold unfiltered and unpasteurized with the mother of vinegar present, as a natural product. It is very popular, partly because of beneficial health and beauty properties and possible weight-loss properties. Because of its acidity, apple cider vinegar may be very harsh, even burning, to the throat. If taken straight, (as opposed to used in cooking), it can be diluted (e.g., with fruit juice or water) before drinking. It is also sometimes sweetened with sugar or honey. There have been reports of acid chemical burns of the throat from apple cider vinegar tablets, but "doubt remains as to whether apple cider vinegar was in fact an ingredient in the evaluated products."
Fruit vinegars are made from fruit wines, usually without any additional flavoring. Common flavors of fruit vinegar include apple, black currant, raspberry, quince, and tomato. Typically, the flavors of the original fruits remain in the final product.
Most fruit vinegars are produced in Europe, where there is a growing market for high-priced vinegars made solely from specific fruits (as opposed to nonfruit vinegars which are infused with fruits or fruit flavors). Several varieties, however, also are produced in Asia. Persimmon vinegar, called gam sikcho (감식초), is popular in South Korea. Jujube vinegar photo (called 枣醋 or 红枣醋 in Chinese) and wolfberry vinegar photo (called 枸杞醋 in Chinese) are produced in China.
Umezu (梅酢; often translated as umeboshi vinegar or ume vinegar), a salty, sour liquid that is a byproduct of umeboshi (pickled ume) production, is produced in Japan, but technically is not a true vinegar.
Jamun sirka (Hindi: जामुन सिरका), a vinegar produced from the jamun (or rose apple) fruit in India, is considered to be medicinally valuable for stomach, spleen and diabetic ailments.
BalsamicBalsamic vinegar is an aromatic, aged type of vinegar traditionally crafted in the Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy from the concentrated juice, or must, of white grapes (typically of the Trebbiano variety). It is very dark brown in color, and its flavor is rich, sweet, and complex, with the finest grades being the product of years of aging in a successive number of casks made of various types of wood (including oak, mulberry, chestnut, cherry, juniper, ash, and acacia). Originally a product available only to the Italian upper classes, a cheaper form of balsamic vinegar became widely known and available around the world in the late 20th century. True balsamic vinegar (which has Protected Designation of Origin status) is aged for 12 to 25 years. Balsamic vinegars that have been aged for up to 100 years are available, though they are usually very expensive. The commercial balsamic sold in supermarkets is typically made with concentrated grape juice mixed with a strong vinegar, which is laced with caramel and sugar. Regardless of how it is produced, balsamic vinegar must be made from a grape product.
Balsamic vinegar has a high acidity level, but the tart flavor is usually hidden by the sweetness of the other ingredients, making it very mellow.
Rice vinegar is most popular in the cuisines of East and Southeast Asia. It is available in "white" (light yellow), red, and black varieties. The Japanese prefer a light rice vinegar for the preparation of sushi rice and salad dressings. Red rice vinegar traditionally is colored with red yeast rice. Black rice vinegar (made with black glutinous rice) is most popular in China, and it is also widely used in other East Asian countries.
White rice vinegar has a mild acidity and a somewhat "flat", uncomplex flavor. Some varieties of rice vinegar are sweetened or otherwise seasoned with spices or other added flavorings.
CoconutCoconut vinegar, made from fermented coconut water, is used extensively in Southeast Asian cuisine (particularly in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, major producers, where it is called suka ng niyog or vinakiri), as well as in some cuisines of India. A cloudy white liquid, it has a particularly sharp, acidic taste with a slightly yeasty note.
Palm vinegar, made from the fermented sap from flower clusters of the nipa palm (also called attap palm), is used most often in the Philippines, where it is produced, and where it is called sukang paombong. Its pH is between five and six.
CaneCane vinegar, made from sugar cane juice, is most popular in the Philippines, in particular, the Ilocos Region of the northern Philippines (where it is called sukang iloko), although it also is produced in France and the United States. It ranges from dark yellow to golden brown in color, and has a mellow flavor, similar in some respects, to rice vinegar, though with a somewhat "fresher" taste. Contrary to expectation, containing no residual sugar, it is not sweeter than other vinegars. In the Philippines, it often is labeled as sukang maasim, although this is simply a generic term meaning "sour vinegar".
Cane vinegars from Ilocos also varies in two different types: basi (sweet) and suka (sour). The sweet vinegar is used as a wine in Ilokanos, while the other type of vinegar is used as a seasoning and preservative.
A white variation has become quite popular in Brazil in recent years, where it is the cheapest type of vinegar sold. It is now common for other types of vinegar (made from wine, rice and apple cider) to be sold mixed with cane vinegar to lower the costs.