Iis a liquid substance consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, the acetic acid being produced through
the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria.
It is today mainly used in the kitchen, but
historically, as the most easily available mild acid, it had a great variety of industrial, medical, and
domestic uses. Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. In
general, slow methods 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. 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.
What is Vinegar?
The dictionary defines vinegar as “sour wine” or “a sour liquid obtained by acetic fermentation of dilute
alcoholic liquids and used as a condiment or preservative.”
How is Vinegar Made?
Vinegar is made by two distinct biological processes, both the result of the action of harmless
microorganisms (yeast and “Acetobacter”) that turn sugars (carbohydrates) into acetic acid. Many of
our favorite foods involve some type of bacteria in their production – from cheese and yogurt to wine,
pickles and chocolate. The first process is called alcoholic fermentation and occurs when yeasts change
natural sugars to alcohol under controlled conditions. In the second process, a group of bacteria
(called “Acetobacter”) converts the alcohol portion to acid. This is the acetic, or acid fermentation, that
forms vinegar. Proper bacteria cultures are important; timing is important; and fermentation should
be carefully controlled.
Although acetic acid is the primary constituent of vinegar aside from water, acetic acid is not vinegar.
Vinegar contains many vitamins and other compounds not found in acetic acid such as riboflavin,
Vitamin B-1 and mineral salts from the starting material that impart vinegar with its distinct flavor.
What is Vinegar Made From?
Vinegar can be made from any fruit, or from any material containing sugar.
What Are the Different Types of Vinegar?
Since vinegar can be made from anything with sugar, there are probably too many different types to
count made in countries throughout the world. Each country may use starting materials native to their
area and tailored to the specific tastes of the region.
Typical retail varieties of vinegar include white distilled, cider, wine (white and red), rice, balsamic,
malt and sugar cane. Other, more specialized types include banana, pineapple, raspberry, flavored
and seasoned (e.g., garlic, tarragon).
Are there Formal Standards for Vinegar?
The following varieties of vinegar are classified by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Compliance Policy Guide for labeling purposes according to their starting material and method of
Cider vinegar or Apple vinegar is made from the two-fold fermentation of the juices of apples.
Vinegar can be made from other fruits such as peaches and berries with the labels describing
Wine vinegar or Grape vinegar is made from the two-fold fermentation of the juice of grapes.
Malt vinegar, made by the two-fold fermentation of barley malt or other cereals where starch
has been converted to maltose.
Sugar vinegar, made by the two-fold fermentation of solutions of sugar syrup or molasses.
Spirit or distilled vinegar, made by the acetic fermentation of dilute distilled alcohol.
Blended Vinegar made from a mixture of Spirit vinegar and Cider vinegar is considered a
combination of the products that should be labeled with the product names in the order of
predominance. It is also the product made by the two-fold fermentation of a mixture of alcohol
and cider stock.
Rice or Rice Wine vinegar (although not part of FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide) has increased
in popularity over the past several years and is made by the two-fold fermentation of sugars
from rice or a concentrate of rice without distillation. Seasoned rice or rice wine vinegars are
made from rice with the “seasoning” ingredients noted on the label.
Balsamic vinegar (also not a part of FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide) continues to grow in
market share and “traditional” and “commercial” forms are available. The products are made
from the juice of grapes, and some juice is subjected to an alcoholic and subsequent acetic
fermentation and some to concentration or heating. See the “Today’s Vinegar” section of
theWeb site for more information regarding Traditional and Commercial Balsamic Vinegar.
Can I Make My Own Vinegar?
If you attempt to make vinegar at home, we are sure you’ll develop an appreciation for the difficulty
of this ancient art and science. Be careful. While homemade vinegar can be good for dressing salads
and general purpose usage, its acidity may not be adequate for safe use in pickling and canning.
Unless you are certain the acidity is at least four percent, don’t pickle or can with it.
What is “Mother”?
“Mother” of vinegar will naturally occur in vinegar products as the result of the vinegar bacteria itself.
Mother is actually cellulose (a natural carbohydrate which is the fiber in foods like celery and lettuce)
produced by the harmless vinegar bacteria. Today, most manufacturers pasteurize their product
before bottling to prevent these bacteria from forming “mother” while sitting on the retail shelf.
After opening, you may notice “mother” beginning to form. Vinegar containing “mother” is not harmful
or spoiled. Just remove the substance by filtering and continue to enjoy the product.
How Long Does Vinegar Last?
The Vinegar Institute conducted studies to find out and confirmed that vinegar’s shelf life is almost
indefinite. Because of its acid nature, vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. White
distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. And, while some
changes can be observed in other types of vinegars, such as color changes or the development of a
haze or sediment, this is only an aesthetic change. The product can still be used and enjoyed with
Is “Acetic Acid” the Same Thing as Vinegar?
No. The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes that diluted acetic acid is not
vinegar, indicating that it is:
“misleading if the labeling of a food in which acetic acid is used implies or suggests that the food
contains or was not prepared with vinegar. Acetic acid should not be substituted for vinegar in pickled
foods, which consumers customarily expect to be prepared with vinegar.”
Does Vinegar Have Calories or Fat?
Most vinegars contain insignificant amounts of some or all of the mandatory nutrients required in
nutrition labeling. Nutrition labeling is not required if the product contains insignificant amounts of all
of the following components (calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, total
carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron) as outlined in the
Chapter 21, Section 101.9(j)(4) of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Code of Federal
Regulations. Most vinegars have less than 3 calories per tablespoon and no fat. Seasoned vinegars
may contain more calories due to the added ingredients. Check the label of your favorite vinegar
product to determine the nutrition information for that product.
How Strong is the Vinegar You Can Buy at Retail?
The strength of vinegar is measured by the percent of acetic acid present in the product. All vinegar
sold in the United States at the retail level should be at least 4% acidity as mandated by the U.S. Food
& Drug Administration (FDA). Typical white distilled vinegar is at least 4% acidity and not more than
7%. Cider and wine vinegars are typically slightly more acidic with approximately 5-6% acidity.
How Can Vinegar Clean My Counters and Flavor My Pickles?
The acid in vinegar cuts through the grease and germs on your counter tops and is also the ingredient
that makes your favorite pickles so tart and safe to eat by inhibiting bacteria and mold. See the “Uses
and Tips” section of the Web site for other ideas for using this versatile product.
Apple Cider Vinegar (liquid)
An apple cider vinegar (ACV), which is unfiltered and not pasteurized and made from whole
organically grown apples, is the best type to use for
both health and cooking purposes. This type of ACV which usually has a 5% acid level, can
be found in most local health food stores and even in some general grocery stores.
I use a certified organic apple cider vinegar (which contains the “mother”) made by Bragg
and one made by Omega Nutrition. Both are delicious and I can highly recommend them.
Many other commercial apple cider vinegars have been pasteurized, filtered, refined or
distilled in order to make the product look good, and thereby more appealing to the general
public. Unfortunately this extra processing destroys much of the healthy goodness and thus
many of the apple cider vinegar benefits that were in the product in the first place.
Once opened, an apple cider vinegar with at least 5% acidity does not need to be
refrigerated and has a minimum shelf life of 5 years. Best to store the vinegar with the cap
tightly closed and not in direct sunlight.
Apple cider vinegar goes well on vegetable salads, seafood and poultry and is an excellent
base for making infused vinegars with various herbs, spices or fruits.
True balsamic vinegar, labeled acetobalsamicotraditizionale, has been produced for a
thousand years in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. This includes an area
starting from the Adriatic Sea and reaching almost to the Gulf of Genoa. This type of
vinegar is made from the reduced juice of sweet white grapes such as the Trebbiano and
Lambrusco varieties and is aged for 12 or more years in a progression of aromatic wooden
Sweet and sour, smooth and mellow, and dark purple brown in color, balsamic vinegar is
full of subtle complex flavors. It is used as an ingredient in salad dressings, sauces and
marinades and even as a toping sprinkled on fresh strawberries or ice cream.
A much more readily available quick-processed industrialized version of balsamic vinegar is
produced in Modena but even this, by Italian law, has to be aged for at least 3 years to be
labeled acetobalsamico. It usually has a 6% acid content.
These types of vinegar are made from fermented sugar cane extract and are used mostly in
Coconut vinegar is often made with a low 4% acetic acid content and has a unique musty
flavor. These types of vinegar are mostly used with Thai and other Asian cooking.
The English have been using malt vinegar for hundreds of years. It's especially popular
sprinkled on chips in a traditional fish and chips restaurant.
Malt vinegar is made from grain, especially barley whose starch has been converted by malt
to an alcoholic liquid that is subsequently fermented to a 5% malt vinegar. It has a strong
Red Wine Vinegar
Red wine vinegar, like apple cider vinegar, has been used for centuries for both medicinal
and culinary purposes.
These types of vinegar can vary in color from light rose to deep red and acid content from 5
to 7%. They are used worldwide, especially in Mediterranean countries, in sauces, salads,
marinades for red meat, and as a pickling agent for fruits and vegetables.
Rice vinegar has been made in China and Japan for thousand of years. It is made from rice
wine, or sake and comes in three varieties, white, red and black.On the southern Japanese
island of Kyushu, the black variety is produced from thick sake made only from brown rice
using a lengthy natural outdoor process. This vinegar has a mild sweet flavor and is highly
regarded for it's medicinal properties.
Generally, these types of vinegar have a 4 to 5% acid content and are used in salad
dressings, and as a condiment for soups, stews and noodle dishes. This type of vinegar is
also added to sushi rice, not only for adding flavor but also for killing dangerous bacteria
that could be present on raw fish.
It's mild flavor makes it excellent for flavoring with herbs, spices and fruit.
Made from sherry wine in Andalusia, southwestern Spain, sherry vinegar is smooth and
mellow with a slight toasted almonds flavor and a balanced sweet and sour taste. This
vinegar is aged in oak casks and often produced by the Solera system over a lengthy period
of time. The Duque de Diano label of aged sherry vinegar made in Jerez de la Frontera is
one of the best examples.
These types of vinegar normally contain 7 to 8% acetic acid content and are widely used in
Spanish cooking, especially with sweet poultry dishes, salads and sauces.
White Wine Vinegar
White wine vinegars can vary in color from white to pale gold and acid content from 5 to
7%. These types of vinegar are light flavored and like apple cider vinegar they go well on
vegetable salads, seafood and poultry and they are a good base for making infused vinegars
with various herbs, spices or fruits.
White Vinegar (White Distilled Vinegar)
Large amounts of white distilled vinegar are made annually and widely used in the food
industry for pickling and as an ingredient in many condiments such as ketchup and
Sold at a 5% acidity level, this vinegar is harsh and coarse-flavoured with little nutrient
value. White distilled vinegar cost less than other types of vinegar, can be readily found in
most grocery stores and is well suited for house cleaning and weed killing chores.