Vinegar has become so ubiquitous and essential in our lives, from eating to cleaning to detoxing to stain remover, that it's surprising that when asked, very few of us can answer the basic question, what is vinegar?
Vinegar is acetic acid in a concentration that can vary from 5 to 20%, mixed with water and traces of other chemicals and flavorings. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar that classic pungent smell and sour taste, itself a colorless liquid.
That is obviously the scientific definition on vinegar, and perhaps a bit more than the layman or woman can chew. Basically, vinegar is alcohol, specifically ethanol, that’s been left out to mix with oxygen and created bacterial fermentation.
The original use of vinegar – which was discovered across the world, independently by many cultures – was to pickle or preserve foods. Storing the food in the vinegar kept it from going bad, which meant it could be consumed much later, but it also had one additional benefit: it changed the flavor, gave it that classic sour twist that we’ve come to know and love.
Where does vinegar come from?
Vinegar can be made from anything with sugar, which is why there are so many different varieties of vinegar in the market. The most popular one is by far apple cider vinegar, which has become an almost cult item in our society. But there’s also red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, malt vinegar (used in England for the famous fish and chips), sherry vinegar, grape vinegar like Muscat and Champagne, and then of course fruit vinegars from a cornucopia of flavorful fruits, like raspberry vinegar, fig vinegar and pear vinegar, just to name very few.
Essential Vinegars To Keep in Your Pantry
Depending on what type of cooking you do, you’ll want to keep a few different types of vinegar in solid rotation.
Apple cider vinegar, made from fresh apple juice, is one of the most versatile, useful to make quick and flavorful vinaigrettes, as a base for many sauces, for meat marinades, for basic pickling and for washing fruit and greens.
Rice vinegar, made from sake, is essential if you cook a lot of Asian dishes, like sushi. It’s sweet and mild and incredibly delicious.
Red wine vinegar, made from fine red wine, is a must-have, as it is the base for many French sauces and to match up to bolder flavors, where apple cider vinegar gets lost.
Balsamic Vinegar, rich, deep and complex, this fine Italian vinegar should always have a special spot in your kitchen. Use it for glazes, drizzle it over greens, fresh mozzarella, strawberries or hard cheeses.
Vinegar stores very well, lasting a few years, so it’s ok to stock up on your favorites, you’ll use them for a long and delicious time!