Tuesday Challenge: Cider Vinegar

5 Jul
vinegar in a jar

MMmmmm... cider vinegar. Thanks to AlyssssyIA for the photo.

Vinegar, in general, tends to get a bad rap, at least as far as sayings go. Take “full of piss and vinegar,” to describe someone who’s crabby. Or “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” for when you want to help a friend with a fly problem (or perhaps comment on their mood). Vinegar is the symbol for sour personalities and bitter emotions.

And that’s a shame, because this is pretty awesome stuff. Yes, vinegar hits the sour/tart/bitter notes – but those are USEFUL flavors.  There are dozens of delicious foods you could not make without vinegar: Salad dressing. Potato salad. Sauerbraten. Pickles. Various and sundry marinades.  Mustard, and therefore anything made with mustard. Balsamic-Strawberry ice cream.  Mmmm…

And cider vinegar, in particular, has some great health benefits.  Now, according to ye ol’ WebMD, cider vinegar can help control blood sugar levels (especially important if you have diabetes), and it can help you feel fuller if you take a tablespoon or two with a meal (important if, like me, you’re hungry A LOT). And it may also help control blood pressure and improve heart health.

I see nothing bad about that.

And, I recently discovered that cider vinegar is EASY to make. Especially if you already have some apfelwein around. (Which, if you can believe it, we do.) So, this week’s challenge is…

Challenge: Cider Vinegar

Making vinegar of just about any kind is very easy. You start with fruit or grains, add yeast to ferment them to produce alcohol, then add a mother of vinegar to the alcohol to produce vinegar. Or you can just start with alcohol and go from there.

A mother of vinegar is a gelatinous mass of bacteria (acetobacter, to be specific) that consumes alcohol and converts it to vinegar. It’s like a yeast. But it looks much grosser. You can pick up your own mother in beer-brewing or wine-making stores, or online, for about $10. As long as you take care of it, one mother will last you the rest of your vinegar-making life. And it reproduces like mad.

The one exception to this easy-to-make vinegar theory is plain white vinegar, which is distilled. Distilling gets tricky – there’s a freezing method and a hot method, and I’ve been told the hot method can be somewhat explosive, but that may just relate to distilling alcohol. So… I’ll research this more later. Because at the moment, I’m focusing on cider vinegar.

Anyway,  commercial cider vinegars contain the juice of apples and water. That’s it.

My cider vinegar contains:
Apfelwein (or you can buy hard cider, if you’d prefer)
Mother of vinegar
Nothing Else

However, you’ll also need:
A bucket for everything to go into
Cheesecloth
Coffee filters (optional)

So, what you do is, you clean and sterilize your bucket. Then you add however much cider or apfelwein you want/have to the bucket. Then you add your mother of vinegar. Cover the bucket with the cheesecloth (fold it up a few times to fit, maybe add a rubber band if you’re worried about dafts knocking it off) and then tuck the bucket into a warm, dry space that has some air movement.

Once or twice a week, get the bucket out, remove the cheesecloth, stir the contents of said bucket, smell it to see if it smells more like alcohol or vinegar, then put it back. A white film will form across the top of your liquid – that’s totally okay. That’s more mother of vinegar, working hard for you.

In 8 or so weeks, you won’t notice the scent of alcohol anymore. All you’ll detect is vinegar. Congratulations. You have made vinegar.

Some places recommend boiling the vinegar to pasteurize, but I skipped this step. Instead, I filtered it through the cheesecloth (which made a HUGE mess of the cheesecloth, so coffee filters may be the better way to go) then added it to sterilized bottles and went with it. I saved the ample mother of vinegar for future use.

(You can also follow this same process with red or white wine, instead of the cider, to make red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar.)

Time and Cost Comparison 

A 16 ounce bottle of Heinz Cider Vinegar is $2.19. That works out to about $0.13 per ounce. Cider vinegar is easy to find in nearly any grocery store.

I made 2 liters of cider vinegar (67.62 ounces). The total cost was $10 for the mother of vinegar, and my homemade apfelwein, which costs $0.03 per ounce, working out to $2.03 worth of apfelwein. Investment: $12.03, which works out to $0.17 per ounce of cider vinegar. However, if I attribute the whole cost of the mother to the first batch, then ever subsequent use of the mother is free, meaning the cider vinegar will only cost $0.03 per ounce.

Ingredient Comparison

They’re incredibly similar. Fermented apple juice. Heinz added water to theirs to achieve a 5% acidity (for pickling/canning accuracy). My original apfelwein had added sugar to increase the alcohol content. But they’re both pretty much just vinegar.

Taste Comparison 

In a plain, vinegar-to-vinegar taste test, it’s hard to say which is better. Heinz is a bit sweeter, a bit smoother, and it has a bit less bite. The DIY is drier and has more zing. But the differences are subtle – both taste, overall, like cider vinegar. Personally, I like vinegar flavors, so the more zing is what I’m drawn to. And used in a viniagrette with a bit of honey and olive oil and salt, it’s a delicious contrast. But so is the other…

PITA Factor

1.5 – super low. Throw alcohol and a mother in a bucket, let it do its thing. EASY.

DIY or Buy?

Eh. (Shrugs) Do whatever, which for most people probably means just buy. It’s a fun experiment, and the mother of vinegar is disgustingly cool, but there’s really no strong final-product reason to go one way or the other. If you plan to make pickles, then probably just buy so you’re guaranteed the 5% acidity. (Or invest in a titration kit to test your DIY vinegar.) However, if you want to make gifts of herbed vinegars, like rosemary vinegar, or garlic vinegar, then making it yourself is an effortless way to get gifts that seem really thoughtful. Now, I’ve heard amazing things about homemade red wine vinegar, so you can guess what my mother-of-vinegar is working on now…

*** NOTE! I’m on vacation in Chicago this week, and it seems my camera cord did not make the trip with me, so I’ve borrowed this photo from the wonderful AlyssssyIA on Flickr. My photos will be added later this week.****

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