All about vinegar, which may just be the worlds oldest cooking ingredient.

January 22: St. Vincent’s Day. St. Vincent is the patron of vintners and vinegar makers.

The world’s oldest cooking ingredient may just be vinegar. According to The Vinegar Institute, vinegar’s history can be traced back over 10,000 years. In fact, flavored vinegars have been manufactured and sold for almost 5,000 years. And the wide variety of vinegars available today is nothing new. The Babylonians were making and selling gourmet vinegars flavored with fruit, honey, malt, and more.

Vinegar is the result of a conversion by bacteria of alcoholic solutions in acetic acid. The word is derived from the French vin (“wine”) and aigre (“sour”). Of course, vinegar is much more than “wine gone bad.” There are three methods of making vinegar: the slow process, the generator process, and the submerged process. Homemade vinegar uses a starter called “mother of vinegar.”

Vinegar Varieties

Vinegar varieties vary greatly from country to country. These are some of the most popular:

Balsamic vinegar is brown in color with a sweet-sour flavor. It is made from the white Trebbiano grape and aged in barrels of various woods. Some gourmet Balsamic vinegars are over 100 years old.

Cane vinegar is made from fermented sugarcane and has a very mild, rich-sweet flavor. It is most commonly used in Philippine cooking.

Champagne vinegar has no bubbles. It’s made from a still, dry white wine made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes (both of which are used to make Champagne).

Cider vinegar is made from apples and is the most popular vinegar used for cooking in the United States.

Coconut vinegar is low in acidity, with a musty flavor and a unique aftertaste. It is used in many Thai dishes.

Distilled vinegar is a harsh vinegar made from grains and is usually colorless. It is best used only for pickling.

Malt vinegar is very popular in England. It’s made from fermented barley and grain mash, and flavored with woods such as beech or birch. It has a hearty flavor and is often served with fish and chips.

Rice wine vinegar has been made by the Chinese for over 5,000 years. There are three kinds of rice wine vinegar: Red (used as a dip for foods and as a condiment in soups), white (used mostly in sweet and sour dishes), and black (common in stir-fries and dressings).

Sherry vinegar is aged under the full heat of the sun in wooden barrels and has a nutty-sweet taste. Wine vinegar can be made from white, red, or rose wine. These vinegars make the best salad dressings.

Filipano Vinegars

Vinegar is an integral ingredient in Filipino cuisine. Here is a look at some of the their different varieties.

  • Sukang Maasim or Cane Vinegar. Sugarcane juice and sap are extracted, cooked and fermented into vinegar. It is almost clear in appearance and has a neutral taste with a fairly strong acidity. Used as an all-purpose vinegar for pickling, marinating and cooking.
  • Sukang Iloko or Ilocano Cane Vinegar. A by-product of Ilocano sugarcane wine known as basi. Made by cooking the cane juice to reach a molasses-like texture and then placed into clay jars with the bark of a duhat, or Java plum tree. It is then left to ferment into basi wine, then finally into vinegar. It has a deep, dark color with a mellow flavor and a hint of sweetness.
  • Sukang Tuba or Coconut Sap Vinegar. From the sap of the coconut palm. It has a cloudy appearance and a smooth taste. Not as sour as other vinegar varieties. Allows other flavors to shine through.
  • Sukang Sasa or Palm Vinegar. Made from the fermented sap of the nipa palm.
  • Sinamak Sukang tuba mixed with black pepper, bird’s eye chilies, ginger, garlic, and onions to bring a tone of spice and heat to fermented coconut sap. This spiced vinegar is often used as a dipping sauce for chicken, grilled pork belly or fried fish.

There are many other types of vinegar, including those made from honey, potato, date, various fruits and berries, nuts, and more. You may want to purchase small amounts of these and try them for the fun of it.

Using Vinegar

  • Unopened vinegar will keep indefinitely. Once opened, store in a cool, dark place. The refrigerator is a good place for vinegars that aren’t often used.
  • To perk up bean soups, add a little vinegar during the last five minutes of cooking.
  • When cooking cabbage, a little vinegar in the water will help to decrease the cabbage odor.
  • To keep the color in red cabbage, add a little vinegar to the water at the start of cooking.
  • If a recipe calls for buttermilk and there is none in the house, add 1-tablespoon of vinegar to 1-cup of milk and let stand before using.
  • Lemon juice can substitute for vinegar in most recipes.

Vinegar Nutrition

Vinegar contains mostly flavor, though it also contains some minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.

Vinegar as a Folk Medicine

Vinegar may have other medical benefits, such as helping reduce cholesterol levels. Folk practitioners used vinegar as a cure for fevers, as an astringent for nose bleeding, and as a gargle (Meyer 1975). Apple cider vinegar was used for colds, arthritis, fungal skin infections, hair and scalp problems, insect bites, and itching (Maiscott 2000). Most modern experts suggest that frequent vinegar and water douches avoid the development of vaginal infections.

In African American folklore, vinegar has even been used to treat broken bones. Pyatt and Johns (1999) reported that vinegar and water were heated and placed on broken bones for several hours. Vinegar was also used in combination with pine rosin pills (Rawick 4: 11). Fontenot (1987) found that vinegar was mixed with cabbage leaves or pokeweed to make poultices for treating boils and sores.

Clay mud mixed with vinegar was used to treat a sprained leg (Postell 1951: 110). Warner Willis (Clayton 1990: 215) also used vinegar for this purpose. He stated, “If you got a sprain, take clay, mix it with vinegar, bind it on the wrench and it goes out.”

Try the following delicious recipes using vinegar!

Steak with Balsamic Vinegar

  • 2 strip steaks, 2 inches or more thick
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 10 peeled garlic cloves, left whole and crushed
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the grill until very hot. Rub the steaks on all sides with a little Crisco Pure Canola Oil, and season them with salt and pepper on all sides. Sear the meat quickly on all sides; do not cook beyond rare. Remove to a plate, let cool, and refrigerate. When ready to serve, slice the steaks width-wise at an angle into about 1/2-inch slices.

Heat 3-tablespoons canola oil over medium heat in a large skillet, and add the garlic cloves. Cook until the garlic is golden; do not allow to brown. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the sliced steak and the Balsamic vinegar. Cook for about one minute or until done to your liking, turning frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with the pan sauce. Recipe makes four servings.

Balsamic Grilled Pork Chops

  • 8 (5-ounce) boneless loin chops
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place pork chops in a shallow dish or a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Stir together vinegar and next five ingredients. Pour over pork chops; cover or seal, and chill one to two hours. Remove pork chops from marinade, discarding marinade.

Grill pork chops, covered with grill lid, over high heat (400 to 500-degrees) six minutes on each side or until done.

Tips: An easy way to peel garlic is to separate the cloves from the head, and hit them with the back of a small skillet or the flat side of a meat pounder. The skins will slip right off the garlic cloves. Dip your measuring spoon in oil before measuring honey or other sticky ingredients. Recipe makes eight servings.