Nowadays vinegar is made in two ways: industrial production and biological fermentation. Unfortunately most of the vinegar available is made by the industrial process with the Frings method using beech shavings which allows the quick production of large quantities. This vinegar is usually produced from petroleum derivatives or organic material (biomass). Sometimes these industrial vinegars are simply flavoured and labelled as “apple” or “wine” vinegar. So it is definitely worth checking the label.
Vinegars made by biological fermentation can be made from almost anything that can be fermented. These vinegars are special because they retain the taste and fragrance of the raw material, as well as their beneficial effects. The most popular are wine vinegar, fruit vinegar, rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar and, of course, balsamic vinegar.
It isn’t hard to prove the ancient origin of wine vinegar. It is enough to think of the word, vinegar, which comes from the French “vin” “aigre” that means sour wine. So the concept of vinegar was always associated with wine. High quality wine vinegar has to be made from high quality wine. Using the best raw ingredients means that good wine vinegar contains the wonderful flavours and aromas of the wines and, just like wines, they can be paired with different dishes.
According to the European Union’s rules the acetic acid content of wine vinegar has to be 6%.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is under Protected Designation of origin and only can be produced in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions. The first bottling happens after at least 12 years of aging. Most balsamic vinegars aren’t made by the traditional process, but still by biological fermentation and aging barrels so they can be of high quality. This balsamic vinegar has a low acid content (4-5%), so it is usually used for cheeses and meats, even for ice creams or deserts.
Unfortunately most are made by industrial process, where several additives (usually caramel, sugar, aroma) are added to make it sweeter and provide the dark colour consumers expect.
The original sherry vinegar is made of the best quality sherry in Jerez, Spain. There are three ways of the production: the aging can happen for at least six months, two or ten years. They have higher acid content than the wine vinegars, but their taste is still pleasant.
The best quality sherry vinegar is only made by the solera method just like the raw material, the sherry. Three or four casks are stacked on top of one another, and the quantity to be bottled is drawn from the lowest barrel, but no more than one third of a barrel. This is then replaced, and the process continues.
It is mostly made from apples, berries or peaches. Apple cider vinegar is known for several beneficial effects on health, but this is true for the other fruits too. Indeed all vinegars made by biological fermentation. Acid content of fruit vinegar is usually around 6%.
You can recognise high quality fruit vinegar when you taste the original flavours of the fruit. Unfortunately you can also find a lot of low quality products made from ethanol and other additives. It is worth reading the list of ingredients on the labels as there products on the shelves (made by the more cost effective industrial methods) that are simply industrial vinegars with aromas and colours – and nothing healthy!
Made from fermented rice, rice vinegar is an essential spice of Asian kitchen. It has a lower acid content (3-5%) and a sweet and salty taste.
Depending on the rice used, you create different varieties. The most popular is from white rice, but vinegar is also made from brown and black rice.
The colour is given by the raw material, and the tastes also vary.