The Many Types of Vinegar

Vinegars are as varied as the different fruits of the earth. Any liquid with sugar can be fermented and turned into vinegar. The final flavor and acidity depends on the starting ingredients.

Distilled white vinegar is generally made from corn or other grains. This vinegar has a strong acid content with very little flavor. It is best used for pickling and cleaning. While it can be used in cooking, other, more flavorful vinegars will impart tartness as well as flavor.

Balsamic vinegar originated in Modena, Italy and is traditionally made from white trebbiano grapes. The grapes are left on the vines until the sugar content is at its highest before they are pressed. The juice is then fermented then aged for least six years and for as long as 25 years in casks made from juniper, cherry, oak, mulberry, and other woods. The liquid is transferred to new casks in a special order designed to impart the woody flavor into the vinegar. The aging process is regulated by a consortium of producers of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Other commercially made balsamic vinegar is not regulated, and is therefore much less expensive, but the quality can vary greatly from brand to brand.

Malt vinegar is popular in Britain and is made by fermenting sprouted barley kernels. The resulting ale is then fermented into a malty flavored vinegar. In Britain malt vinegar is served with fish and chips much as ketchup is served in America.

Clear or white rice vinegar originated in Japan while red and black rice vinegar comes from China. Clear rice vinegar is used in Japanese cooking, especially in sushi preparation. It has a mild and even sweet flavor similar to ginger. Red rice vinegar is sweet and is often used in soup and noodle recipes, while black rice vinegar is smoky flavored and is usually used as a dipping sauce.

In the Middle East vinegar is commonly made from raisins. The brown, cloudy liquid called kha'anab is mild flavored and used in a variety of middle eastern dishes.

Coconut vinegar originated in the Philippines and is made from the nectar of the tree and not from the coconut juice itself. The final product is cloudy and white to yellow in color and low in acid. It is used in many Thai and Indian dishes.

Fruit vinegars tend to be mild and sweet and are perfect for use as a salad dressing. In South Korea, a vinegar called gam sikcho is made from the juice of persimmons. Other popular fruits for making vinegar are berries, tomatoes, cherries, and plums.

The variety of flavored vinegars is limitless. Flavors may be added by starting with a favorite vinegar and adding specific flavoring, which may be a spice or herb, such as oregano. Steep the mixture for at least two weeks. For hot vinegar add chile peppers, peppercorns, or horseradish. For a spicy flavor try cinnamon or cloves. For a mild, sweet vinegar add lemon peel, orange peel, or berries. For a hearty vinegar add garlic cloves.

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