Vinegar is pretty fancy these days!
From artisanal shrub cocktails, to whole stores devoted to the olive oil and vinegar pairings, vinegar is finally having its' day in the sun. Unless it has been pasteurized, or distilled, vinegar is also probiotic, meaning that it contains beneficial, live active cultures.
In addition to this article, we teamed up with the Living Homegrown podcast for a fascinating conversation on the subject if you have the time for a listen. We hope you enjoy.
Long viewed as a contaminant in beer and wine making, the acetobacter bacteria that create vinegar are in fact useful and agreeable organisms. Acetobacter live everywhere, all around us, on the skins of fruit, the feet of flies, in even the cleanest of kitchens.
They give kombucha its characteristic tang, and, while it is true that they do not make for good beer, wort inoculated with acetobacter will quickly turn into a fine malt vinegar.
Like many fermented beverages, vinegar creates a SCOBY as it digests the sugars present in whatever liquid is being fermented. SCOBY, as you may know from other fermentation projects, is an acronym for Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeasts.
The opaque material that makes up the SCOBY floating on the surface of the fermenting wine is composed mainly of cellulose, which is a byproduct of the action of the several strains of acetobacter and yeast that work to turn alcohol into vinegar.
Vinegar is made from alcoholic beverages, but alcoholic beverages come first from fruits or grains. Often when we make vinegar, we start with wine or beer or that has already been fermented, as this simply speeds up the process.
It is also quite possible to make vinegar from fruit scraps of every kind. The ferment passes through an alcoholic stage, and then the alcohol is metabolized into acetic acid, aka vinegar.
Here, we’ll walk you through the making of some apple cider vinegar made from peels and cores.
Of course, it is possible to use whole apples for this project, as well. But why not enjoy the fruit in applesauce, dried apple rings, or other delicious apple delights, and use the scraps to make vinegar?
Wash the apples, and cull any moldy spots. For this exercise, bruised fruits are just fine to use, but nothing that is visibly moldy.
Peel and core the apples as you would for making applesauce, dehydrated apple rings, or your preferred apple concoction. We like to use a handy-dandy apple tool; they make such nice even slices, perfect for dehydrating, and can peel/core at the same time.
Do whatever you plan to do with the meat of the apple, and then turn your attention to the peels and cores.
Place the peels and cores into a wide-mouth vessel large enough to hold them (canning jars are great); the exact amount is truly not important here. A non-reactive container (glass is best) filled at least halfway with apple pieces is what you are aiming for. Half a dozen apples generate enough peels and cores for a half-gallon batch of vinegar.
You’ll need to leave room to pour water over the fruit, and have plenty of room for air in the vessel, as well.
Place a weight on top of the apples to keep them submerged beneath the liquid.
3. ENCOURAGE THE FERMENT WITH ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS
A vigorous yeast such as champagne yeast will create an energetic initial ferment that can repel mold and other spoilage organisms.The peel mixture will pass through the alcoholic stage on its way to becoming vinegar; the alcohol is later digested by the vinegar-producing bacteria. If no champagne yeast is available, or you want a truly "wild" ferment, rest assured that the skins of apples are covered with wild yeasts that will also initiate fermentation.
A tablespoon of sugar or molasses per quart of liquid will also energize the initial ferment, making it more vigorous and quick. If the natural sugar levels in the apples are high, this step is not necessary. Molasses adds minerals to the nutritional profile of the vinegar, but also stains the vinegar to a darker brown color. Whit sugar will create the classic amber-colored vinegar.
Neither of these steps are crucial, but choosing one or both of them will give your ferment a nudge in the right direction, acidifying it faster, and leaving less of an opportunity for spoilage organisms to take hold.
Some recipes also call for the addition of live apple cider vinegar, or a vinegar mother, either during the initial ferment, or after it has progressed for 3 weeks. This can be beneficial if you wish the vinegar to progress more rapidly; we recommend adding the raw apple cider vinegar, or a mature vinegar mother, after the initial alcoholic fermentation. (Too much acid in the initial alcoholic fermentation can impede the action of the yeasts that create alcohol.)
NOTE: Because Acetobacter are present all around us, they will end up in your fruit scrap vinegar, no matter what you do. They are the final result of almost every kind of fermentation. However, some of the wild yeasts and bacteria that might colonize your ferment before the Acetobacter and yeasts take over can result in off-flavors that might impact the final flavor of your vinegar. Adding a vinegar mother culture, or Champagne Yeast, or a wild-fermentation approach—all of these are viable options. Choose the one that feels best to you.
NOTE: Honey can also be used as the sweetener, but because it contains so many amazing antimicrobial properties of it’s own, it will slow down the rate of fermentation significantly.
Molasses can be used in place of sugar; doing so will increase the available nutrients in the finished vinegar, although it will also create a slightly darker color.
Ensure that the fruit is beneath the level of the liquid. If necessary, use a weight to keep the apple scraps submerged.
Cover the top of the fermenting vessel with cheesecloth, or paper towel, and secure it with a rubber band.
Access to air is important to the developing vinegar, so make sure it is breathable, while keeping out any unwanted dust. Place the fermenting vinegar in a warm, dark place, out of direct sunlight. (70°F is ideal.) You will see bubbles on the surface that indicate the yeasts are at work.
Allow the mixture to ferment until bubbles are readily visible on the surface, about 2 weeks. Strain the solids from the liquids, and return the vinegar to its warm, dark spot to continue fermenting.
It will pass through a stage of alcoholic fermentation, and then continue on into vinegar.
WHAT IF MY VINEGAR LOOKS CLOUDY?
As the vinegar ferments, it may become cloudy; this is natural, and nothing to be concerned about; it will clear somewhat as fermentation slows again. A SCOBY will form on the surface of the liquid, indicating that the bacteria and yeasts are doing their work. A little cloudiness in the finished vinegar indicates a thriving microbial community. This is a good thing.
Allow this mixture to ferment for another two weeks, and then taste it.
If you’re like me, you may already have tasted it at several junctures, already. That’s fine, too. The idea here is to use your nose and tongue, to determine when all of the alcohol is gone from the liquid.
You may continue to ferment it for another month, or as long as 6 months. The flavor and acidity of the vinegar will change over time, as is usual with a living culture. Enjoy the changes!
WHAT ARE ACCEPTABLE USES OF FRUIT SCRAP VINEGAR?
While the vinegar is acceptable for use in salad dressings, cooking, and the like, at any point after the fermentation is complete, the final acidity of this product varies widely. It is therefore not suitable for canning purposes, and should only be used for flavoring. When the vinegar has a flavor to your liking, you may consider it done.
Storing your vinegar is the next step. It will continue to ferment as long as there is even the slightest residual sugar, as long as it has access to air. Eventually the acetic acids in it will be broken down, making the product somewhat less acidic; bottling the vinegar preserves these acids, while leaving it continually exposed to air will eventually result in the degradation of the acetic acid. Be sure that fermentation has stopped before sealing the vinegar in an airtight container, to prevent pressure from building up in the bottle.
STRAINING THROUGH CHEESECLOTH AND BOTTLING
It is advisable to strain the finished liquid to remove sediment and bits of the SCOBY that may have fallen from the mother. Strain the finished vinegar through several layers of cheesecloth, and into airtight bottles for storage in a cool dark cabinet or the refrigerator.
OPTIONAL: PASTEURIZING YOUR VINEGAR
If you wish to pasteurize the vinegar, it will be shelf-stable for longer, but will lose all of it’s raw and probiotic qualities. To pasteurize the vinegar, strain it into a non-reactive pan and bring the temperature up to 140°F, not to exceed 160°F. Then, bottle and store the finished vinegar out of direct sunlight.
Making your own vinegar from finished cider, beer, or wine, is a very similar process to the one described above.
However, it is important to note that vinegar made from exceptionally strong or distilled beverages that contain an alcohol content of 12% or higher must be diluted with water in order to create a palatable vinegar.
We recommend when making wine vinegar, to use 2 parts wine, 1 part starter vinegar (one with live, active cultures, aka the vinegar mother), and 1 part clean water. Allow these to ferment for several weeks, until the desired flavor is reached.
Apple cider (and most beers) generally contain about 5% alcohol; this is just about the perfect alcohol level to make tasty vinegar. In this case, add one part starter vinegar to 3 parts hard apple cider and ferment as above.
When making vinegar from beverages that have already been fermented, such as wine or cider, dilute them as necessary, and inoculate them with a vinegar mother, derived from unpasteurized vinegar. (Since they have already undergone an alcoholic ferment, the Champagne yeast method is unnecessary.)
Allow them access to air until the vinegar mother has formed and the characteristic vinegar aroma is apparent, and follow all of the subsequent steps as described above.
Hope you have fun getting started with fermenting your own homemade vinegars. Remember, don't hesitate to let us know if you have any questions!
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