Vinegar is another one of those foods that is as old as history itself. Every major civilization worldwide has produced some kind of vinegar from the foods indigenous to each culture.
Vinegars are made from fruits or grains that have a sufficient natural sugar content that allows them to be fermented into various kinds of mildly alcoholic beverages. Those beverages are the starting point of vinegar. The most common things used for this are grapes, apples, coconuts, dates, cane sugar, rice, barley, honey and even potatoes.
Whatever the starting substance happens to be, it needs to somehow be made into a liquid so that it will ferment. As you would expect, if you are starting with fruit, it needs to be juiced. If you start with a grain, it will need to have water added to it before this can happen. Fermentation transforms these liquids into a stable alcoholic beverage. Every region makes these type of beverages in the form of wine, beer, sake or the like.
If the intent is to keep this alcoholic beverage as it is, it needs to be monitored during the fermentation process until the fermentation slows and stops. Then, it must to be transferred into clean vessels, sealed and stored in a cool dry place to keep that liquid from fermenting itself further. Fermenting it further would eventually turn it into vinegar.
Storing this newly made beverage where the temperature is prone to significant fluctuations could restart the fermenting process transforming it into vinegar. Should the beverage be left in vessels that are not filled up to the top to limit it’s exposure to oxygen or, if it is left to the open air where it is sure to oxidize it will eventually produce what is called “mother of vinegar.” Once present, there is nothing to prevent it from turning into vinegar. In fact, the mother of vinegar when added to any wine, cider or beer will transform it’s alcohol into vinegar. This entire process can be accelerated by simply introducing more air into the mixture.
In Mediterranean cultures that traditionally made wine, every household had a vinegar keg. Wine that had spoiled and was on it’s way to becoming vinegar was not wasted. It got poured into the vinegar keg where it finished it’s fermentation into vinegar.
Keep in mind that all living things decompose or, to use an even less glamorous expression, they “rot.” Fermentation is the same process elevated to an art form because the “rotting” process is being monitored and controlled. Two things that determine fermentation are the natural sugars in what is being fermented and an ambient temperature that will support fermentation. When it’s too cold, fermentation slows or stops. Yeast can act as a catalyst to the fermentation process but, it is also a byproduct of it. Anyone who has successfully made wine from grapes does not need yeast to do it.
Through fermentation, the impurities within the fermenting liquid are gradually released into the air as gases or fall out of solution as sediment at the bottom of the fermenting vessel. If fermentation is made to continue past the point of the alcoholic beverage having been produced, that liquid will eventually become vinegar. When it has become vinegar, that liquid has fermented or “rotted” to the point where it has nothing else in it to give up because it has been “cleaned” of all of its natural impurities, and is finally vinegar.
In Western culture most vinegars are generally made from grapes, apples or barely. Grapes are made into wine. The apples are made into apple cider, and barely malt is made into beer. By basically “spoiling” these three types of beverages we eventually arrive at vinegar. Berries like raspberries are also used to make vinegar but are not as common as the previously mentioned three and rice vinegar is common in the far east.
Each vinegar has it’s own characteristic flavor profile but it would be hard to overlook the characteristic sourness of any vinegar no matter what it is made from.
Wine vinegar is obviously made from wine. In Europe wine is considered to be more than just a beverage. It has always been regarded as a veritable staple of life, benefiting general health; not something consumed for the sake of inebriation. It is therefore common in Europe for everyone in the family, even the very young, to have some wine with their meals.
- On that note; vinegar is simply “spoiled wine.” The word vinegar literally means “sour wine,” from the French words “vin,” meaning wine, and “aigre,” meaning sour. In Italian, it is called “aceto,” from the Latin acetum which means “sour” as is also the nature of acids.
Wine vinegars are made from both red and white wines. Once made into vinegar they can be enhanced to give them nuances of flavor by infusing herbs in them. Tarragon, rosemary, garlic or whatever might suit the taste or purpose intended are commonly found in specialty vinegars.
Vinegar can also be infused in other ways including with flower petals to make it more delicate and aromatic to transform it into a remedy or, perhaps even a cosmetic.
It is possible to make a very fine vinegar using roses that might also be used to improve or heal the skin of blemishes or injuries. With the affinity of roses for the blood and their cooling nature, roses are perfectly suited for skin inflammations. With the addition of vinegar it would be even more so. The delicate nature of the rose also makes it ideal for delicate skin like the skin of the face or the “décolletage” (the area of the upper chest above the breasts) to tone and soften the skin. It takes a lot of rose petals and red wine vinegar to make rose vinegar but the result is always pleasing – almost perfume like.
It is important to start with real vinegar, not cheap, watered down acetic acid. The quality of the outcome is always based on the quality of the ingredients.
Start by pouring about a gallon of organic red wine vinegar into a food grade plastic container and then freezing it solid. You will notice that it will not freeze entirely. The outer layer, being mainly water, will freeze while the inner part will retained it’s color and remain fluid. From this “cold” distillation we obtain what is called the “spirit of vinegar,” which will pour out, leaving the ice behind. You will notice that the vinegary smell is now much more refined than what you had started out with.
Pour the vinegar that is still liquid out and store it in a tightly sealed jar. Then gradually add fresh aromatic rose petals to the vinegar. If they are not aromatic it will not make for a very good rose vinegar. Red roses are best but, wild roses will also work quite well. Remember, you are after the rose oil in the petals, so, it is vital that the roses be aromatic.
You add as many rose petals as the vinegar will cover and let it sit for a day or two until the rose petals lose their color. Then strain out the paled rose petals and keep adding fresh rose petals to the vinegar every day or two. Continue doing this until the smell of vinegar has been completely replaced by the aroma of roses. Keep doing this for as long as you have fresh rose petals available. The more you repeat this process, the more the aroma of the roses will predominate and the greater the effectiveness of this vinegar will become.
Perhaps the most exotic method of producing vinegar is in the production of Balsamic Vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is a product of Italy where it has been made in the North Central region of Italy since the middle ages.
- The term Balsamic is an interesting one to attribute to a vinegar. According to Paracelsus the term “balsamic” has to do with a specific “healing” substance that is within the nature of all things. In humans and animals alike the balsam is a catalytic substance that makes it possible for the flesh to heal itself. This balsam is to be found in a greater or lesser concentration in different parts of the body where the healing of the flesh is more critical. It is fed and maintained out of natural foods that have not been adulterated by human intervention. Today’s foods, being severely depleted, do not support this very fine Natural balsam to the fullest extent as they once did.
- The most obvious example of this is in the mouth. When we burn the inside of our mouth we notice that it heals relatively quickly as compared to say, our finger. This would imply that our healing balsam is stronger inside the body than outside of it as the internal functions are more critical to life and are able to put up with a lot more abuse than the outside. A balsamic remedy is a remedy that feeds the balsam itself, tending to speed the healing of the flesh. This concept is classical and entirely relevant to life in any age even if, it cannot be detected or completely quantified chemically. This concept has no modern equivalent, consequently, there are no modern chemicals capable of acting as balsams.
- No one can take credit for the healing of the body. In that regard we are all helpless and at the mercy of Nature. If we can avail ourselves of the Secrets of Nature we can then participate in Her art.
- In preserving the balsam of the flesh, the flesh itself is also preserved from decay. Another word used to describe the same concept is the Latin word “mumia,” which is likely from the Arabic word mūmiya. What ever preserves the balsam or mummia of the flesh also “mummifies” it.
It is hard to say whether Balsamic vinegar is actually balsamic in the truest sense of the word although both wine and vinegar are certainly known to have health benefits.
The making of balsamic vinegar is not as straight forward as the making of regular wine vinegar. Balsamic vinegar starts as a white Trebbiano grape that is pressed into juice. This juice, being already sweet, is then made even sweeter by being reduced to 30% of its original volume from being heated. It is then allowed to ferment naturally to eventually produce a very special vinegar. It is the aging process that affords this truly special vinegar the name “balsamic.” The vinegar is aged in barrels made of different “sweet” woods like oak, ash, acacia, mulberry, cherry, apple and chestnut.
As with any kind of aging in wooden barrels, the nuanced flavors from the wood resins pass over to the liquid they are containing. The wood of the barrels, being porous, it is expected that some of the moisture of the vinegar “breathes” out of the barrels to further concentrate the flavors of the sweetness of grapes, the sourness of the vinegar and the complex resins of the wood to become the world renowned balsamic vinegar.
The region in Italy where balsamic vinegar is made is famous for its world class fast cars but, as quality takes time – do not expect an instant balsamic vinegar any time soon; at least not from Italy! Even the less expensive commercial grades of balsamic vinegar are aged for no less than 12 years. The higher grades need between 12 to 24 years of aging before they are bottled and sold. The older it is, the more expensive you can expect the balsamic vinegar to be. Balsamic vinegar is used by gourmet chefs in high cuisine. At about $25 per ounce, balsamic vinegar is certainly not the vinegar of choice for washing the floor.
Most vinegars are watery and translucent when poured. They give off a fragrance that is characteristic of what they are made of. Balsamic vinegar offers a completely different experience. Being slightly or noticeably thicker, it even pours differently; having a characteristic dark brown color, with a rich, glossy, luster that gives off a mild but rich sent that makes you anticipate it’s complex flavor. No other vinegar can be compared to it. Balsamic Vinegar is a condiment that can be transformed as much into a flavorful marinade or sauce as into a desert.
Vinegar For Health
The vinegars that most people are used to are the red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and malt vinegar. All are used in foods to add flavor and to improve the digestibility of the foods being eaten. Wine vinegars are often used in salads and in marinating meats, poultry and fish. Malt vinegar has similar uses and is often used in Northern Europe on fried fish and chips.
What has been attributed to the healing power of vinegar has been recognized since the middle ages and likely long before then. Vinegar is mentioned in many old texts including “The Cannon of Medicine” by Avicenna. This Islamic doctor from medieval times stated that vinegar was beneficial in the healing of burns and skin inflammations and good for digestion. It was also used to relieve headaches caused by heat. Avicenna also mentions vinegar as a cleaning agent. These statements are virtually identical to modern day findings.
Because quality vinegar does not need to be preserved chemically or have dyes added to it. It is already stable because there is nothing in it that can be further fermented. It’s color is from the remains of that process. Should any preservative or color be on the label, it would be best to not buy it.
Externally – Vinegar For Skin And Hair
Healthy young skin is naturally acidic. As we age the skin loses some acidity and gradually becomes more alkaline and in the process gets drier and flakier if not taken care of. Our skin is best taken care of from the inside, through good, sensible nutrition. But, externally the skin is still prone to injury from such things as excessive Sun exposure, burns, scrapes, cuts, contusions, over use of cheap cosmetics and so on.
The best example I have ever observed of the basic effect that vinegar has on a “skin” is while I am washing my car. When washing a car you use a detergent that strips grease from the finish. I use a natural chamois to dry the car afterwards leaving the chamois hard, rough and stiff when it dries. I wet it with vinegar to make it soft and supple again. It stays that way even after drying completely. A simple experiment but, the point was made. Soft leather likes the gentle acidity of vinegar as much as our own skin does.
Vinegar, already being a food and an acid, is very friendly to our skin and hair. If vinegar is applied to the skin it softens and seems to moisturizes it. Recently, it was mentioned in the news that the actress Scarlett Johansson uses apple cider vinegar on her face to keep it soft and radiant. Facial skin is more delicate than the skin on our arms and legs and needs to be taken care of with more delicate ingredients. A natural, simple vinegar seems to work just fine.
If Ms. Johansson were to discover the benefits of balsamic vinegar for the skin she might switch from the apple cider variety to the balsamic very quickly. The balsamic vinegar is thicker and if applied to the skin will tend to gently stick to the skin allowing it’s acetic characteristics to stay put longer rather than quickly evaporate away. This allows it to work, drawing out skin impurities from the surface of the skin as well as from underneath it. Leaving the skin feeling tingly and clean.
This ability means it can even be applied to mosquito bites to remove the itch and prevent swelling. A neat trick with a simple household food item.
People shampoo their hair to clean it but, the detergents in shampoo strip it and the scalp of their natural oils. Even after rinsing some soap residue can remain on the hair leaving it matt and dull. By rinsing the hair with water with some added vinegar the hair is stripped of all soap residue prompting natural hydration to the hair and scalp leaving them clean and the hair shiny.
Any kind of skin eruptions are made to heal more quickly by the use of vinegar both internally as well as externally. Even skin itchiness can be helped in this way. Although castor oil compresses may be better; if castor oil is not available, vinegar can be mixed with simple clay to be placed onto sprains to relieve their pain. Naturally, the compresses need to be removed and replaced when their active ingredients wear off.
Dissolving Crystals and Reducing Muscle Pain With Vinegar
As already mentioned vinegar is good for removing scale aka limescale. If you live where there is hard mineral rich water, it is not uncommon for the minerals in that water to start crystallizing onto the shower head nozzle and faucets. It looks awful and can block the water flow. Depending on the chemical make-up of the water, one of the simplest ways of removing most of that build up is by placing the nozzle into vinegar or soaking a sponge in vinegar and placing it onto where the scale has accumulated. The chemical reaction sometimes produces bubbles as the vinegar dissolves away the mineral crystals. This can be done as much to a tea kettle as to anything else that finds itself encrusted with hard water mineral deposits/crystals.
I wouldn’t waste good wine, apple cider or malt vinegars on a task as menial as this. For something like this the cheap white Heinz vinegar, the kind for cleaning or washing the floor is good enough and very effective.
Based on this principle apple cider vinegar can also be used for sore muscles that find themselves sore from an over abundance of uric acid due to over work or excessive animal protein intake. Uric acid can form into crystals within the muscle tissue causing pain. Apple cider vinegar is great at dissolving this type of crystalline build up by simply apply it onto the painful area as a compress or by adding it to a hot bath and soaking in it. A pound of sea salt can also be added to the bath for greater effect.
Internally – Vinegar For Food Preparation and Digestion
Vinegar, because of it’s sourness, is not something that you would drink like water, wine or beer. Normally, when taken internally it is diluted in water. Vinegar is very friendly to the stomach. Apple cider vinegar has been used to assist in stomach difficulties for a very long time. The stomach when it is healthy enjoys an acid environment. While in this state you do not feel any discomfort from the stomach. When the stomach becomes alkaline from either poor food choices or digestive organ impairment, is when it starts to bother people. Many have found that taking water together with some apple cider vinegar is very soothing to their stomach. The stomach dictates the health of the GI tract most of the time. When the stomach is again balanced in this way, the rest of the digestive tract is often brought back into balance.
Vinegar is used as a condiment in many foods to make them more easily digested. Adding vinegar to a salad dressing helps make the raw vegetables of that salad more palatable as well as more digestible to the stomach.
Vinegar is used in many sauces and marinades to both enhance the flavors of foods as well as making them more stomach friendly. Meats, venison, fish, vegetables can all be marinated with vinegar together with herbs and spices that are best suited to what ever is being marinated. The natural flavors of these foods are enhanced by this very simple, ages old method of food preparation. While being grilled, roasted, seared, stewed or steamed the aromas of the foods waft into the air making it hard not to salivate.
Vinegar is also used for pickling together with salt as a preservative as well as other spices and herbs to add flavor. Part of the appeal of pickled foods is the sourness of the vinegar.
- The characteristic “heat” of mustard is activated by the acidity of vinegar.
- As vinegar benefits the stomach and sugar can sometimes provide a boost of energy; mixing apple cider vinegar with some honey and water provides a simple energy boost without having the wildly stimulating effect of a caffeine spiked energy drink.
- The Ancient Romans would mix water with vinegar and some parsley to hydrate when work was being done in hot climates. Vinegar would provide much needed potassium, parsley also contains potassium and sodium to assist in better hydration. At the time salt was expensive; this seemed like a less expensive but nonetheless an excellent hydrating formula that was very suitable to the hot Mediterranean climate. This simple drink is beneficial to both the Heart and Kidneys, helping for endurance while doing hard work.
A Less Culinary And More Utilitarian Vinegar
When we are talking about vinegar for internal use in food or remedy preparation we are talking of the natural vinegars mentioned above not the cheap white vinegar. This type of vinegar is also known as “distilled vinegar” because it is made from distilled alcohols fermented from malt or corn. The final product, being acetic acid, it is then diluted with water to about 5% to 8% concentration. The most common brand of this kind of vinegar is likely Heinz.
This is not a very glamorous vinegar. It’s an inexpensive vinegar produced by industrial processes of scale. Although it is definitely pure, in the sense that it is made to very exacting quality control standards, it’s flavor is not as “smooth” as vinegars produced through the more traditional artesian processes. This type of vinegar certainly has many industrial as well as domestic uses, including cleaning counter tops and doing the laundry. It is very effective for flushing out residues from washing machines and dish washers as well. It is also antibacterial without being a toxin and without doing harm when it comes in contact with our skin or the environment. White wine vinegar is very antimicrobial. White vinegar is the vinegar of choice when it comes to cleaning. This is where the relatively inexpensive white vinegar “shines” best
These utilitarian uses are great but, although it may be used in food preparation it is definitely a choice of last resort for most as it is lacking in flavor and some find it disagreeable to their stomachs.
There is also something called wood vinegar but, it is not used in food. It is made from the condensed vapor in the making of charcoal. It is very useful in agriculture as a natural insecticide, anti-fungal agent and even as a fertilizer of sorts. It is used in some countries with great effectiveness.
Vinegar And Things Spiritual
We seldom give much consideration to the simple things that are all around us; what they are, how they operate and what moves them forward towards continual transformation. There are a few fundamental substances that make life possible, bearable and forever changing over time and sometimes right before our very eyes. Gottfried Mayerhofer writes eloquently about them as Sugar, Salt and Vinegar. Chemically they are referred to as glucose, salt and acid. Each has a fundamental catalytic role in the life processes of all living things on all levels.
As indicated above, oxygen is central to the formation of vinegar. So it is understandable that in German, oxygen is called “sauerstoff.” “Sauer” meaning sour or acidic and “stoff” meaning substance. The Germans seemed to have naming oxygen after it’s effect, meaning that it is “acid forming,” even though oxygen is not in acid itself.
For the purpose of this article it is enough to understand that acids are not limited to simple vinegar. As a living principle of life, acids provoke reactions for the purpose of effecting transformation to whatever it comes into contact with. It is through that effect that substances are provoked into mutations, moving them forward to become part of other, progressively more complex living forms.
There is a fundamental principle acting here. All ingredients that come together to form anything, are together because of their relationship to each another. That is what keeps them stable in their unity. Should one of those ingredients be made to change, for whatever reason, then, the relationship between all the other ingredients is forced to change as well, affecting all other ingredients that were part of that overall unity, potentially disrupting that unity. Karl von Eckartshausen (paraphrased) These changes are being provoked by acid. The formation of vinegar itself, is the result of this very same simple process.
The transformation of the original complex alcoholic beverage into vinegar is effected by the separation of its chemical parts, whereby they are forced to become other separate compounds. This is being provoked by fermentation through oxidation. When all of the initial ingredients are separated out, all that is left is vinegar; which is why vinegar is sometimes referred to as a “clean spirit.” This last point is the reason why vinegar is so well suited to cleaning, chemistry not withstanding. Vinegar cleans many things thoroughly because, being an acid, it will not support things as they are. It divides them into other elements that nature will recycle into other things.
If we observe nature, we can see that this “oxidation” process is ongoing; happening all around us as well as inside of us. Substances are constantly forced to break up, in order to form other substances, which progressively become part of more complex living things. In turn, this same process provokes the life chemistry within all livings things as well, making sure that nothing is left in a state of stagnancy, to remain permanently as it is.
It is the purpose of this acidic process to progress all that is, towards a greater perfection through an almost forced participation with all of Creation.
The reactivity and transforming ability of acids has not gone unnoticed by industry. Industrial processes would be impossible without the use of the various kinds of acids. It would seem that human kind has been taught well and has learned a lot from nature, often at the expense of Nature Herself.
The very human attitude of curious exploration, discovery and implementing of what has been learned is part of the same process that makes physical and spiritual life possible.
Vinegar or acid represents progression. It is the purpose of progression to pursue what we love to discover what we love most and revealing what our love does, leading us to what love itself is. We as beings are created, given a chance to mature through and within the restraints of physical life to struggle towards our freedom by gradually removing what would restrain us. We are like the sweet living juices that are allowed to go through the process of oxidation (Fire) through fermentation to release all of their slag to finally emerge free, from having been cleansed of the dross we had been laddened with.
In all cultures there is a concept of a life above and beyond this physical one, where the same process continues towards a still greater perfection. The necessary ingredients of that process remain the same only more refined, to produce a more spiritual type of oxidation and fermentation.
It is obvious that these processes which we cannot resist are the simple mechanisms that steer all that is created towards a greater perfection that all things and we ourselves seek and yearn for.