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What is Vinegar?

The origin of the word vinegar can be traced back to the Latin words for wine, 'vinum,' and sharp, 'acer' and the French words for wine, 'vin' and sour, 'aigre.' The word 'vinaigre' literally means sour wine. Vinegar was discovered quite by accident when a cask of wine, past its time, fermented and turned sour. That was the humble beginnings of a product that has been working wonders ever since.

Vinegar is a natural bi-product of a food organism. Throughout the centuries the natural sugar found in fruits, such as apples, grapes, berries, melons and coconuts have been turned into vinegar. Natural starches found in vegetables and grains, such as potatoes, corn, barley, wheat, rye and rice have also been used. The sugar or starch is turned into alcohol first and then completely ferments into vinegar. Today, pure White Vinegar, the most common and widely used vinegar, is primarily made from the alcohol derived from corn. There is no alcohol in the finished vinegar.

5% acetic acid, household vinegar is in the pantry of virtually every home in Canada - 97%, according to a 2002 Usage Study, and probably has more uses than anything else in your house. Vinegar is used as a food condiment, an ingredient in baking and cooking and in salad dressings, mayonnaise, mustards, ketchup, salsa, for pickling and preserving, BBQ and hot sauces, marinades and as an all-purpose household cleaner.

Vinegar's acetic properties make it 'The Perfect Household Cleaner'™. Pure White Vinegar has been prized for generations for its usefulness as a stain remover, mildew eliminator, soap scum dissolver, chrome polisher, lime descaler, fabric softener, room deodorizer and as an unclogging agent.

How is Vinegar Made?

From a winemakers' perspective making vinegar is easy, sometimes too easy. As August Sebastiani, a well-known Californian winemaker stated, 'God wants to make vinegar, and we have to stop him!'1 While the making of vinegar in theory is simple, producing consistently high quality vinegar is quite complex.

Two natural biochemical processes are used to make vinegar, both the result of the action of microorganisms. The first process, called alcoholic fermentation, is brought about by the action of yeasts, which change natural sugars into alcohol under controlled conditions. The second process, called acid fermentation is brought about by the action of a microorganism called acetobacter that converts the alcohol to acetic acid.

There are many types of vinegar available on the market with new specialty vinegars surfacing every year. The following provides a brief description of how some of the more common vinegars are made.

Pure White Vinegar:
Corn is converted to starch and then sugar, and then the secondary fermentation of a neutral spirit alcohol is converted into vinegar.
Malt Vinegar:
Made from the alcohol obtained from the fermentation of barley malt
Red Wine Vinegar:
Made from the wine of red grapes
White Wine Vinegar
Made from the wine of white grapes
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Made from the alcohol obtained from the fermentation of apples.

1 Hergz, Robert, 'The Story of Vinegar, Food & Drink, Autumn 2002, p. 165

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