Vinegar is the acid/sour liquid obtained from various fruits and grains after alcoholic and acetous fermentation takes place. The process is usually controlled by the addition of a starter, which includes a scum of desirable bacteria called the vinegar mother.
Wine vinegar is fermented from fresh wine, malt vinegar is made from malt liquor, cider vinegar from cider, and sweet and sour vinegars from rice wine. The flavours of vinegars vary according to the nature and quality of the base liquid, and the method of acetification. Normally vinegar contains from 4–6% aetic acid, but its strength can be increased by distillation.
Vinegar is an essential ingredient in salad dressings, mint and horseradish sauces and can be used sparingly instead of lemon juice in hollandaise, Béarnaise and mayonnaise sauces. Many marinades for meat and game contain vinegar (the acid has a tenderizing effect), and it is used in pickling of all kinds–fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, and eggs.
All vinegars are corrosive so when mixing pickles, or using marinades or any recipes containing vinegar, use utensils made of glass, earthenware, china, or stainless or enamelled steel.
Specialty vinegars make up a category of vinegar products that are formulated or flavoured to provide a special or unusual taste when added to foods. Specialty vinegars are favourites in the gourmet market.
Herbal vinegars: Wine or white distilled vinegars are sometimes flavoured with the addition of herbs, spices or other seasonings. Popular flavourings are garlic, basil and tarragon – but cinnamon, clove and nutmeg flavoured vinegars can be a tasty and aromatic addition to dressings.
Fruit vinegars: Fruit or fruit juice can also be infused with wine or white vinegar. Raspberry flavoured vinegars, for example, create a sweetened vinegar with a sweet-sour taste.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Vinegar made from fermented apple cider. Milder than wine vinegar, with a fruity taste of apple juice, it is consumed for its purported health–giving properties and used to deglaze, in court–bouillons, and in salad dressings.
Poduced in Emilia Romagna, Italy, traditional balsamic vinegar is grape must, simmered to a concentrate and allowed to ferment and acetify. Then, for at least 12 years, it is progressively siphoned through a battery of barrels of decreasing size, each made from a different wood. Dark brown and viscous, with an aroma of wood and grapes, and richly sweet and sour, it is used sparingly as a condiment.
On the label, traditional balsamic vinegar is distinguished by the terms ‘tradizionale’ and/or ‘D.O.C’ and the producer's and Conzorzie insignia. The bottle will be sealed with a wax or lead capsule.
Industrial balsamic vinegar ranges from a ‘semi–balsamic’ to wine vinegar coloured and flavoured with caramel.
Malt vinegar is an aged and filtered product obtained from the acetous fermentation of distilled infusion of malt and is a good example of vinegar originating from cereals. Malt is the result of grain softened by steeping in water and allowed to germinate. Germination causes the natural enzymes in the grain to become active and help digest the starch present in the grain. The starch is converted into sugars prior to fermentation. Malt has a distinctive flavour that contributes to the flavour of malt vinegar and brewed beverages such as beer. Malt vinegar is popular for pickling. It is most famous as the companion to fish and chips. Any English recipe calling for vinegar typically uses malt vinegar unless otherwise noted.
Vinegar, usually of white wine or cider, infused with fresh raspberries, strained, and typically sweetened with sugar. Fruity raspberry vinegar has a variety of uses. It is delicious drizzled over salads, but it can be used in a myriad of other ways, drizzled over Yorkshire Puddings, on ice cream or in place of soya sauce. Raspberry vinegar adds a bit of oomph to gravy. It makes a refreshing drink poured over ice and diluted with soda water. Fry some chopped bacon in a pan and tip in some raspberry vinegar, scrape all the delicious brown bits from the pan and then pour the bacon and vinegar over some green leaves for a quick salad. Raspberry vinegar is sweet and delicate in flavour, it can be used to compliment fruits and many salads, or can be used in a salad dressing, and makes a wonderful raspberry vinaigrette. Raspberry vinegar is a healthy alternative to more robust vinegars and since the vinegar is not as pungent as other vinegars, you can cut calories by using less oil. Raspberry vinegar makes a great marinade and can be used in sauces for roasted meats.
Red Wine Vinegar
Vinegar made from red wine. The best is made by the slow, cool Orléans process. Once fermentation is complete, the vinegar can be strained or bottled, or is aged. The longer the vinegar ages, the more muted the flavour becomes. Red wine vinegar can be aged up to two years before bottling. Even after purification and straining, a miniscule amount of sediment will remain at the bottom of the bottle. With a pronounced taste, the nuances depending on the base wine, it is used particularly in vinaigrettes, in salad dressings and sauces, pickling, and to marinate and deglaze robust meat dishes.
Rice or Rice Wine Vinegar is the aged and filtered product obtained from the acetous fermentation of sugars derived from rice. Rice vinegar is excellent for flavouring with herbs, spices and fruits due to its mild flavour. It is light in colour and has a clean, delicate flavour. Widely used in Asian dishes, rice vinegar is popular because it does not significantly alter the appearance of the food. Use it over salads, add to a quick stir-fry dish with ginger or liven up vegetables and fruits.
Chinese Rice Vinegar
Made from fermented rice. Generally milder and sweeter than malt and wine vinegars, there are three main varieties: black, with a complex, rich flavour; red, mild and slightly sweet; and white, mild and sweet.
Japanese Rice Vinegar
Vinegar made from fermented rice. Golden in colour, mildly acetic and relatively sweet, it is used, sweetened, for sushi rice, and to season salads.
Vinegar, typically of wine or cider, infused with fresh tarragon. One of the most popular herb vinegars, it is classically used in Béarnaise sauce. Splash on top of a bowl of soup, especially nice with gazpacho and other tomato based soups. Use in a mayonnaise recipe and serve with hard boiled eggs or a cold seafood platter. Flavour canned pickles or tomatoes. Simmer chicken pieces in about 1 cup of vinegar, then add a little cream. The flavour of this dish is wonderful. And of course you can use it to make vinaigrette recipes.
Malt vinegar either decoloured by filtering or distilled to make a very strong ‘spirit vinegar’. Clear, colouress and harsh–tasting, it is used in pickling for aesthetic reasons.
White Wine Vinegar
Vinegar made from white wine. The best is made by the slow cool Orléans process. It is clear and pale gold, almost colourless. The taste is distinctly acidic, and the aroma reminiscent of the wine from which it comes. It is used in sauces such as mayonnaise, beurre blanc and hollandaise, in court–bouillons, and can be used to bring out the sweetness in strawberries and melons. Add a twist to spicy salsas and marinades and wake up the flavour of sauces and glazes. This product is perfect for today’s lighter cooking style — replace heavy cream or butter with a splash of white wine vinegar to balance flavours without adding fat. The tart, tangy taste also reduces the need for salt.
The juice squeezed from the lemon fruit. Highly acidic, it is used as a souring agent, a source of pectin for jams and jellies, to flavour and enhance, and to slow enzyme browning. Sustituted for vinegar in sauces, it results in a more delicate flavour.
The juice squeezed from the lime fruit. Very acidic (one and a half times more acidic than lemon) it is used, in the tropics, as a souring agent, to flavour and enhance dishes, and in drinks.
Originally produced as a wine or vinegar, Verjus is the pressed juice of unripened grapes and has been popular in Western European cooking for centuries to deglaze, use as a condiment, or in sauces. It’s not a product you see that often, but it’s a clever ingredient to use as it’s less astringent than vinegar but more tart than wine and elevates the flavours of sauces and mustards.
An alcoholic Japanese liquor brewed from fermented rice, there called saké. As a culinary ingredient it is used to marinate, tenderize and flavour food.
Mirin is a Japanese sweet spirit–based cooking ‘rice wine’ used for marinades and glazes.