If you’re anything like me, you enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and trying out new things. One area of cooking that’s always piqued my interest is fermentation. Fermentation has been around for centuries, and it’s how many popular foods and drinks—like bread, cheese, yogurt, and beer—are made.
One fermented food I’ve been experimenting with recently is vinegar. Vinegar can be used for so many things in the kitchen, from cleaning to cooking. And once you start making your own vinegar, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered buying it from the store.
How Vinegar is Made
Vinegar is made through a process called acetous fermentation. Basically, bacteria (specifically Acetobacter) convert ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar its sour taste.
To make vinegar, you need a few things:
Alcohol: This can come from various sources—beer, wine, hard cider, or even just sugar water fermented with the appropriate yeast. You can use leftover wine or beer that’s gone bad, which means you’re recycling and reducing waste!
“Mother” or Starter: This is the acetobacter culture that you’ll use to kick-start the fermentation process. You can buy a starter online or make your own from unpasteurized, unfiltered vinegar (often labeled “raw” or “with the mother”).
Oxygen: To allow the bacteria to do their thing, you need to keep the alcohol in contact with air. This means covering the container with cheesecloth or a coffee filter to allow air to circulate.
Making Vinegar: A Step-by-Step Guide
Here’s an easy recipe for making your own vinegar:
Start with the alcohol of your choice. Pour it into a large jar or jug, leaving a few inches of headspace.
Add the mother or starter culture to the alcohol, following the instructions on the package.
Cover the container with cheesecloth or a coffee filter to allow air to circulate while keeping out dust and insects.
Store the container in a warm, dark place for at least a few weeks, or until a thin layer of “scum” develops on the surface. This is a good sign that the vinegar is fermenting properly.
Taste the vinegar periodically until it reaches the desired level of acidity. The longer you leave it to ferment, the more sour it will become. You can also add flavorings like herbs or fruit during the fermentation process to create unique flavors of vinegar.
When the vinegar is ready, strain it through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to remove any sediment or scum. Bottle the vinegar and store it in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to use it.
Beyond Vinegar: Other Fermented Drinks
If you’re interested in fermentation, vinegar is just the beginning. There are so many other delicious and nutritious fermented drinks you can make at home. Here are a few:
Kombucha: This fizzy drink is made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The resulting drink is tart, slightly sweet, and packed with gut-friendly probiotics.
Water Kefir: This drink is similar to kombucha but is made with water, sugar, and water kefir grains instead of tea and a SCOBY. Water kefir is also packed with probiotics and has a slightly sweet, tangy flavor.
Kvass: A traditional Russian drink made by fermenting bread or beets with lactobacilli bacteria, kvass has a slightly sour, earthy flavor and is rich in vitamins and minerals.
Making your own vinegar and other fermented drinks is a fun and satisfying way to experiment in the kitchen. Not only is it a great way to reduce waste and recycle, but fermented foods and drinks are also great for your gut health. So why not give it a try and see what delicious concoctions you can come up with!