What Is Vinegar And How Did Vinegar Come About?
Vinegar is all around us. Whether it’s housed in an oil and vinegar cruet or bottle, it can be found in kitchens all over the world. Unless it’s a type of vinaigrette or fruit vinegar, most people treat vinegar like salt or sugar because it’s usually not the primary ingredient in most recipes. However, this doesn’t mean vinegar is not included in a lot of recipes. When you think about it, vinegar is used for more recipes than we could ever imagine because a lot of dishes benefit from that acidic taste that vinegar tends to give them. I believe learning about vinegar is just as important as learning about any other cooking ingredient if you truly have a passion for cooking. I think the more people are educated about vinegar, then they will be able to get more adventurous in selecting the type of vinegar they want from the store. It may even spark an interest in an Italian luxury, aceto balsamico, authentic Modena Balsamic Vinegar.
What is the US definition of vinegar? Vinegar is a fermented liquid that contains a minimum of four grams of acetic acid per 100 cubic centimeters. The liquid that is fermented can be:
Apple juice: vinegar, cider vinegar, apple cider vinegar
Grape: wine vinegar
Converted starch infused with barley malt: malt vinegar
Sugar or refiner’s syrup: sugar vinegar
A glucose (or dextrose) solution: glucose vinegar
Diluted distilled alcohol: spirit, distilled, or grain vinegar
Acetic acid, the culprit behind vinegar’s tart taste, is formed from the digestion of alcohol by aceto bacters in an oxygenated environment, which means vinegar is merely a fermentation byproduct of a type of bacteria interacting with alcohol.
Derived from the French term “vinaigre,” the term “vinegar” can actually be translated to mean “sour wine” (hence the term vin+aigre). When we hear the term vinegar in the US, we are actually making reference to the kind of vinegar derived from apple juice. In Italy, the term for vinegar is named after the bacteria responsible for the fermentation process (aceto) rather being named after the substance created from the process.
If you want to guess what type of vinegar is prevalent in a given area, just take a look at the type of fermented alcohol that is popular there. For example, in countries where wine is a common drink (like in Italy and Spain), the vinegar is derived from wine and sherry. In England, where beer and cider are popular, the common type of vinegar is malt vinegar (as it is in Germany and most of eastern Europe) and cider vinegar. France is known for its white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and champagne vinegar because those alcohols are commonly consumed there. And of course, Japan gets its vinegar from its popular alcoholic beverage, sake, which is a rice derivative.
As far back as 5000 B.C., we have records of humans using fermented alcohols to produce vinegar. In Babylonia, date wine was used to produced date vinegar. This is no surprise because it doesn’t take modern technology to create alcohol and vinegar (since fermentation is a natural occurrence). We can probably go a little further and say vinegar was probably in existence long before 5000 B.C., but we have no proof because of the lack of written records prior to 5000 B.C.
You can almost imagine how it was discovered—most likely accidentally. Somebody was probably getting ready to take a drink of wine that had been left out for a while (so it fermented), and tasted something very different and yet still worth tasting. Human society must have really widely embraced this strange, new taste because by 2000 B.C., we have historical accounts of vinegar being produced in commercial proportions. They even started getting experimental with their vinegar by adding herbs, fruits, and spices. Some even employed vinegar as a health remedy, with doctors prescribing it as a cure for feeble health. The acidic nature of vinegar also made the substance a popular preservative before the invention and knowledge of refrigeration, and it is still widely used in canning and pickling recipes.