Article courtesy of the Vinegar Institute:
Throughout history, vinegar has proved to be the most versatile of products. The dictionary defines versatile as “capable of turning with ease from one thing to another,” and from more than 10,000 years ago to today, consumers continue to use vinegar in a variety of ways.
The vinegar produced and used today is much like the product of years past, but with newly discovered flavors and uses. The mainstays of the category – white distilled, cider, wine and malt have now been joined by balsamic, rice, rice wine, raspberry, pineapple, chardonnay, flavored and seasoned vinegars and more. See the Specialty Vinegars section below for more information on these products and how to use them.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that any product called “vinegar” contain at least 4% acidity. This requirement ensures the minimum strength of the vinegar sold at the retail level. There are currently no standards of identity for vinegar, however FDA has established “Compliance Policy Guides” that the Agency follows regarding labeling of vinegars, such as cider, wine, malt, sugar, spirit and vinegar blends. Other countries, as inEurope, have regional standards for vinegar produced or sold in the area.
From the kitchen to the bathroom and beyond, vinegar is the most flexible of products sure to have a daily use in your home and life. See the VI Tips section for more information about how to use vinegar in and around, and even outside, your home. If you are interested in vinegar market trends, click here.
Today’s Specialty Vinegars
Specialty vinegars make up a category of vinegar products that are formulated or flavored to provide a special or unusual taste when added to foods. Specialty vinegars are favorites in the gourmet market.
- Herbal vinegars: Wine or white distilled vinegars are sometimes flavored with the addition of herbs, spices or other seasonings. Popular flavorings are garlic, basil and tarragon – but cinnamon, clove and nutmeg flavored vinegars can be a tasty and aromatic addition to dressings.
- Fruit vinegars: Fruit or fruit juice can also be infused with wine or white vinegar. Raspberry flavored vinegars, for example, create a sweetened vinegar with a sweet-sour taste.
Some popular specialty vinegars currently on the market include:
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is classified as traditional or commercial grade. In theUnited States, products labeled as Balsamic Vinegar can also be found.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Italy is made from white and sugary Trebbiano grapes grown on the hills aroundModena. Custom demands that the grapes are harvested as late as possible to take advantage of the warmth that nature provides there. This traditional vinegar is made from the cooked grape “must” matured by a long and slow vinegarization process through natural fermentation, followed by progressive concentration by aging in a series of casks made from different types of wood and without the addition of any other spices or flavorings. The color is dark brown, but full of warm light. The fragrance is distinct, complex, sharp and unmistakably, but pleasant acid. The flavor is traditional and inimitably sweet and sour in perfect proportion.
Production of traditional Balsamic Vinegar is governed by the Italian Law, and provides that a specific Certification Agency (Cermet) oversees all production phases, from the vineyard to the bottle. All of the product that is bottled must pass a sensory examination run by a panel of five tasting judges. The manufacturers adhere to two different Consortia: Consortium for Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Consorzio Tutela ABTM), with over 300 members, and the smaller Consortium of Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Consorzio Tra Produttori ABTM). Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is only bottled in the distinct bulb-shaped bottle of 100 ml. It has either a white cap (minimum age of 12 years) or gold cap (minimum age of 20 years). The bottle comes in a box with a book describing the process of manufacturer and some recipes.
The production of traditional Balsamic Vinegar is very labor intensive and time consuming. Therefore, it is very expensive and available in limited quantities. Commercial grade Balsamic Vinegar of Modena constitutes a more economical alternative to the traditional product. In theUnited States, products are also allowed to be labeled as “Balsamic Vinegar” based on theU.S.labeling laws. Such products are made from the juice of grapes, but would not carry the term “ofModena” on the label. Commercial products are of high quality and suitable for use in marinades, vinaigrette dressings and in making pan sauces.
The product has a very long shelf life and can be stored in a closed container indefinitely. It is suggested to store the product at 4 – 30°C, but refrigeration is not required. Exposure to air will not harm the product, but may cause “mothering,” which causes the solids to filter out. Some sedimentation is normal for a product that contains a high level of soluble solids, but the sedimentation will disappear when the bottle is agitated.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is generally found in specialty stores. Commercial grade Balsamic Vinegar of Modena can be found in specialty stores, supermarkets and supercenters.
Uses: Salad dressings, sauces and gravies benefit from the addition of Balsamic Vinegar. Sprinkle on cooked meats to add flavor and aroma; season salad greens, strawberries, peaches and melons; use as an ingredient in your favorite salad dressing. See the Recipes page of the VI Web site for ideas on how to use Balsamic Vinegar.
Malt Vinegar is an aged and filtered product obtained from the acetous fermentation of distilled infusion of malt and is a good example of vinegar originating from cereals. Malt is the result of grain softened by steeping in water and allowed to germinate. Germination causes the natural enzymes in the grain to become active and help digest the starch present in the grain. The starch is converted into sugars prior to fermentation. Malt has a distinctive flavor that contributes to the flavor of Malt Vinegar and brewed beverages such as beer.
Uses: Malt Vinegar is popular for pickling, especially walnut pickles. It is most famous as the companion to fish and chips. Any English recipe calling for vinegar typically uses Malt Vinegar unless otherwise noted. There are recipes using malt vinegar on the Recipes page.
Raspberry Red Wine Vinegar
Natural raspberry flavor is added to red wine vinegar, which is the aged and filtered product obtained from the acetous fermentation of select red wine. Raspberry Red Wine Vinegar has a characteristic dark red color and a piquant, yet delicate raspberry flavor.
Uses: Sprinkle Raspberry Vinegar on fruit salads; use as a marinade or basting sauce for meats; use as an ingredient in your favorite salad dressing, or use by itself on salads or cooked vegetables.
Red Wine Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar is made from red wine. Producers allow the red wine to ferment until it turns sour. Once fermentation is complete, the vinegar can be strained or bottled, or is aged. The longer the vinegar ages, the more muted the flavor becomes. Red wine vinegar can be aged up to two years before bottling. Even after purification and straining, a miniscule amount of sediment will remain at the bottom of the bottle. Red wine vinegar can be used in salad dressings and sauces, pickling, slow food and cooked in reductions to make sauces.
Rice or Rice Wine Vinegar is the aged and filtered product obtained from the acetous fermentation of sugars derived from rice. Rice Vinegar is excellent for flavoring with herbs, spices and fruits due to its mild flavor. It is light in color and has a clean, delicate flavor. Widely used in Asian dishes, Rice Vinegar is popular because it does not significantly alter the appearance of the food.
Uses: Dash over salads, add to a quick stir-fry dish with ginger or liven up vegetables and fruits.
White Wine Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar is the aged and filtered product obtained through the acetous fermentation of a selected blend of white wines. It is clear and pale gold, almost colorless. The taste is distinctly acidic, and the aroma reminiscent of the wine from which it comes.
Uses: White Wine Vinegar can be used to bring out the sweetness in strawberries and melons, add a twist to spicy salsas and marinades and wake up the flavor of sauces and glazes. This product is perfect for today’s lighter cooking style — replace heavy cream or butter with a splash of White Wine Vinegar to balance flavors without adding fat. The tart, tangy taste also reduces the need for salt. See our Recipes page for ideas on how to use White Wine Vinegar.
Other Specialty Vinegars
Coconut and Cane Vinegars are common inIndia, the Phillipines andIndonesiawith Date Vinegar popular in theMiddle East.