Making vinegar at home is surprisingly easy. In fact, you don't really
MAKE vinegar as much as you simply set up the right conditions, and
vinegar makes itself. If you've never tasted home made vinegar, In my
opinion, you have never really tasted vinegar at all.
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Most of the stuff labeled as vinegar that you buy at the grocery is often too strong or sour and just tastes and smells unpleasant. Often, commercial white "vinegar" is made by a chemical process. On the other hand, naturally made vinegar is a product of fermentation. Home made vinegar is not as strong tasting, and has the flavor and aroma of natural "stuff" you made it from. It's much more pleasant to consume, and has live bacteria cultures (probiotics) with healthy properties similar to yogurt and fresh sauerkraut.
Have you ever wondered how to make vinegar? Anything that you can ferment into wine or beer, can be made into vinegar. Fresh fruit, sweet vegetables like carrots, tomatoes or squash or pumpkin, grains or natural (unpasteurized) juices, even wine. Depending on how dry your fermentable is, you may need to add some water to make a liquid slurry. Some folks use wine yeast to jump start the process, but I've been successful without using packaged yeasts.Supplies:
-A ceramic crock or a plastic bucket
-Cheesecloth to cover the crock or bucket
-A rubber band to hold the cheesecloth in place
-A sealable glass container to store your finished vinegar in
-A funnel or the bail from a coffee maker
-Coffee filters or more cheese cloth to filter the finished vinegar.
Vinegar is the by-product of a secondary fermentation process. Primary
fermentation involves yeasts converting sugars and starches into
alcohol. Vinegar happens when bacteria (in the acetobcter family)
converts the alcohol into acetic acid.
Winemakers use closed airtight containers for fermentation to prevent vinegar bacteria from activating and ruining their wine. Because yeasts don't need oxygen (they're anaerobic) they can operate in an oxygen free environment, where bacteria cannot. For making vinegar, you NEED a container that is exposed to the air and has a wide top, because the vinegar bacteria need oxygen to live (they're areobic). Wine that is exposed to the air too much during fermentation, can be ruined (turn to vinegar). In fact the Ancient Romans called vinegar "sour wine", and was drank like wine for it's health benefits.
Start by sterilizing your crock or bucket using boiling water.
Pour the cider into the crock and cover it with cheese cloth or some other clean cloth. Secure it with a rubber band to keep out insects and contaminants.
Leave the covered container set in a warm (70°-80°F) place out of direct sunlight and let the fermentation begin. Some people recommend stirring the vinegar every day. In my opinion, this is not necessary, because the yeast and bacteria get distributed throughout the entire batch anyway. On the other hand, stirring doesn't do any harm either.
For the demonstration for this web page I made apple cider vinegar. I used a half gallon of natural, unpasteurized apple cider I bought from a local orchard. I don't use pasteurized or processed juices to make vinegars or wines because all of the beneficial live cultures have been killed off (along with all of the bad stuff that pasteurization is intended to kill).
Natural cider has all of the yeasts and bacteria in it to make vinegar when you buy it. That's why a container of cider will turn "winy" if you don't drink it all within a week or two. These yeasts are slowed down by refrigeration, but once they are at room temperature, they'll take off. You'll probably find that the cider will start to ferment within a day or so, and will start to have a winy or yeasty aroma not long after that.
Once sufficient alcohol is present in the cider, the bacteria become active and start to convert the alcohol into vinegar. After a week or so of fermentation, you will notice a smell of vinegar starting to come from the container, and a slippery rubbery substance forming on the surface. This is is called the "mother", and is a byproduct of the bacteria fermentation process. It's mainly composed of cellulose, and can be removed or left in place. I prefer to leave it alone - it's just part of the process.
After 4-6 weeks you should have batch of vinegar ready for use. You can leave it longer and it will get stronger over time.
Taste it on a regular basis, until you're satisfied with the flavor. Then you're ready to filter and bottle it.
When you're ready to bottle your vinegar, remove the mother from the top and discard it. Some people keep a small part of the mother with a little vinegar in a sealed glass jar for use as a starter for their next batch. This is OK to do, but not necessary.
Vinegar will form sediments on the bottom of the container that may have to be filtered out when you bottle it. I simply use a coffee filter in a funnel, and pour the vinegar gradually through this directly into the bottle or jar that I plan to store the vinegar in.
Close the container, and store it in a cool dark place. Vinegar will keep indefinitely due to it's high acidic levels.
Making vinegar at home is easy and inexpensive to do. The variety of vinegars that you can make and the flavors that come from different kinds fruit and other fermentables are amazing. Learning to make vinegar can add another tool in your tool kit of self sufficiency.