How to Make Your Own Vinegar

The word vinegar originated around 1300 AD and comes from the Old French words “vin” which means wine and “aigre” which means sour. However, vinegar has been around for at least 10,000 years. The Babylonians used it 5,000 years ago as a food preservative.

Man Carrying Grapes

While the story of how it originated is lost in the sands of time, it is most likely that our modern version was due to a cask of wine was left too long. Because that is all vinegar really is: old wine. The chemical processes by which vinegar is made is called alcoholic fermentation and acetic fermentation. Naturally occurring yeast turns sugar into alcohol and then another bacteria called acetobacter turns the alcohol into acetic acid.

Although originally made from wine, vinegar can be made from almost any material that contains sugar, including apple juice, raspberry juice, molasses, and rice. The possibilities are endless, and people from different regions of the world have used native ingredients to make vinegar.

Making vinegar at home is pretty easy, but before using homemade vinegar in canning or preserving make sure it has at least 4 percent acidity. The amount of acidity in finished vinegar is directly related to the amount of sugar in the starting liquid. Commercially available distilled white vinegar contains about 4 percent acidity while apple cider and wine vinegar run at about 6 percent acidity.

To make vinegar you need a one gallon glass jar and an airlock. Airlocks are available at very low cost from wine supply stores and online. The airlock allows carbon dioxide to escape during the fermentation process without allowing in oxygen.

To make apple cider vinegar use fresh unpasteurized apple cider or the juice from freshly juiced apples. Sweet apples generally contain more sugar than sour apples and will make a more acidic finished vinegar. Pour the juice into a one gallon glass jug and seal it with an airlock.

The fermentation process uses wild yeast that is always in the air, so no yeast needs to be added. The fermentation that turns the juice into alcohol will take between four and six weeks during which carbon dioxide bubbles will escape from the air lock. During this time there may be some gray foam on the surface of the liquid which is only excess yeast and will not hurt anything. When the bubbles stop forming and escaping through the airlock the first step is done and you will have an alcoholic cider.

The second stage of fermentation will turn the alcohol into acetic acid. The acetobacter bacteria that is used in the second fermentation stage is also naturally occurring and does not need to be added, but it does require oxygen to work. The airlock is removed and oxygen is allowed to enter the jug. Tie cheesecloth, or a thin cloth, over the opening to keep out dust. It can take up to nine months for the acetobacter to consume all of the alcohol and turn it into vinegar. The process can be sped up by increasing the surface area that is exposed to oxygen by splitting the alcoholic mixture into two jugs.

This process can be duplicated with other juices such as raspberry, grape juice, or other fruit juices as long as they are unpasteurized. Vinegar can also be made using a mixture of one gallon water to 4 ½ pounds of honey. The entire process can be sped up by starting with an alcoholic liquid such as wine or hard cider. To make a gourmet vinegar add items such as fresh spices, garlic, chile peppers or mint to the mix after it has completed the second fermentation.

<< Cooking With Vinegar | Return to Vinegar Home Page >>

Resources:

The Vinegar Institute: Vinegar Lore
Nature Moms: Make Your Own Vinegar

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