Like most commercial food, companies make vinegars for the most easily offended tastes. Basically, the flavour and character is muted and the ingredients are subpar (i.e. vinegar devoid of probiotic nutrients, added refined sugar for sweetness, excess preservatives and stabilizers).
Even if you’re not using the vinegars in recipes, you can always deglaze your pans after cooking meat and making a simple fat-vinegar sauce to serve with your meat dishes.
Fruit vinegar is just acetobacter bacteria plus juice.
- 2/3 alcoholic cider (my own homemade brew but you can buy from the liquor store)
- 1/3 unpasteurized cider vinegar (I got this as a gift from my sister. Available at most health food stores)
- Save large glass jars as fermenting vessels.
- Coffee filter
- Rubber bands that fit top of jar.
- Use hot water to clean your equipment. The acid will kill a lot of unwanted microorganisms so the cleaning standards (i.e using chlorine) for brewing aren’t necessary.
- Leave a couple inches of headspace for air circulation to feed the bacteria.
- Mix and wait: You want to ferment for 1-6 months depending on desired acidity and efficiency of the bacteria.
Acetobacter, a kind of acetic acid producing, aerobic (uses oxygen to metabolize) bacteria will turn ethanol alcohol and oxygen into acetic acid. Subsequently, acetobacter will then convert the acetic acid into water and carbon dioxide. The vinegar will vaporize over time unless you deprive the bacteria of oxygen by bottling the vinegar.
If you’re using fruit scraps, you’ll need to weigh the scraps down with a non-reactive object like specialty fermenting stones or just a non-lead glass object, which will limit the risk of surface mold.
Avoid metal equipment because the acid will add a metallic taste to the liquid.
The main factors for fermentation time will include the numbers and efficiency of the acetobacter bacteria and the temperature (hotter is faster). You can ferment in the 15 to 35C range, so you`ll be fine in most any Canadian home.
I skipped buying a mother and used one from my cider vinegar (which I got from an unpasteurized bottle of cider vinegar from the store). I didn’t use a mother from my kombucha because I figured the composition of yeast and bacteria that feast on sugar cane and its byproducts would be different from those that feast on fruit nutrients. I got this idea because I brew beer and wine, and the yeasts vary in efficiency (speed to ferment) and effectiveness (favouring less offensive flavours) depending on whether you’re brewing beer, fruit wine, mead, etc.
A vinegar mother starts as a gelatinous film and grows and solidifies with use in fermentation.
Keep the vinegar in a dark, cool space so the fermentation doesn’t accelerate and give overly strong flavours. Any sort of fermentation tends to benefit from slower fermentation unless you want strong flavours. (i.e. when brewing a lightly flavoured beer, you want slow and cold and when brewing a fruity Belgian beer, you want a warmer, faster fermentation).
The vinegar will vary in tartness from length and how much alcohol is available to convert to vinegar.
If you leave the liquid to open air, the environmental bacteria will convert the liquid to vinegar. However, other (unfavourable) organisms may populate the liquid before the vinegar can sterilize the liquid with acid. You’re best off using unpasteurized vinegar from a store to kick start the process and add a ratio of acid to protect the liquid in the early stages.
Don’t use homemade vinegar for canning unless you can reliably test the acidity. The strength is too variable from batch to batch.
If you want to bottle in glass bottles, you should pasteurize the vinegar. If there are any sugars left that yeast will convert to alcohol and CO2, the bottle could explode. Likewise, acetobacter will convert the acetic acid to carbon dioxide and water too. The science on probiotics is still being discovered so it’s unclear whether killing these bacteria remove some of the probiotic quality so alternatively you can use plastic bottles or a container with an airlock like you use in brewing.
Simple Recipes with Homemade Vinegar
Vinaigrette for salads: marinated red onions, shallots, garlic scrapes, and/or chives in vinegar and olive oil. Ratios are variable.
Fruit flies: Secure coffee filter to the top of the jar with rubber bands. I would avoid a cheesecloth alternative to the coffee filter because fruit flies can squeeze between the fibers.
Mold: Make sure fruits are all submerged and the liquid is acidic.
Excessive alcohol: Bacteria can’t grow in highly alcoholic environments so avoid using alcohol above the typical wine percentage of 12-15%.
Insufficient alcohol: below 8%, you start limiting the food supply for the bacteria