How vinegar is made is probably not one of the top things most people have in mind to learn about, but vinegar happens to be one of the more frequently used condiments in a cook’s kitchen.
Vinegar is not really just wine gone bad. It is wine that has been altered by a yeast based substance called Vinegar Mother, or more formally, Mother of Vinegar.
If you have ever had a bottle of vinegar “go bad” as in the taste is too acidic, you have probably seen vinegar mother. It is the sediment that forms at the bottom of an improperly stored bottle of vinegar. It will have a milky, dusty sort of appearance and has the consistence of watered down jelly.
Vinegar mother contains yeast and a form of acetic acid bacteria, with cellulose as well. The yeast creates alcohol which is then transformed by the acetic acid bacteria, which turns the alcohol into acetic acid. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its distinctive flavor and what differentiates it from wine.
Obtaining a bit of vinegar mother is relatively easy. If you are fortunate enough to know someone who has a bit of vinegar mother, you can ask if the will split it with you. This will in no way harm their supply of vinegar mother as vinegar mother will grow as long as it has sufficient oxygen and food (sugar) and is kept at an acceptable temperature.
If you do not know someone with vinegar mother, you can either buy some from a cooking supply or wine making supply store or you can make your own.
Making vinegar mother can take some time but is not difficult to do. The easiest way is to take some old vinegar and place it in a clean jar. Shake the vinegar in the jar for a few moments to aerate it. Place the jar in a warm place. The top of your refrigerator works very well. Cover the top of the jar with some cheese cloth to allow oxygen to enter the jar. In a few weeks, you should have some vinegar mother growing on the bottom of the jar.
With vinegar mother, you can make your own, homemade vinegar to either cook with or to give as gifts. To make your own vinegar, choose a wine, fruit juice or other alcohol you would like to turn into vinegar. Place the chosen liquid into a clean jar and shake the liquid up. Let this sit overnight and then add your vinegar mother along with some water. Cover the top of the jar with some cheese cloth. Put the jar in a dark place for about 5 weeks. After 5 weeks, taste your vinegar. If it is strong enough, scoop the mother vinegar out with a spoon to stop it from fermenting further. If it is not strong enough, let it set for a few more days and taste it again.
Once you are done making your vinegar, you can keep your mother vinegar for later use. Mother vinegar will stay usable as long as you provide it with oxygen and food. Remember though, that vinegar mother can die. If you forget to provide it with food or it does not get enough oxygen or if the temperature you store your vinegar mother at is either extremely warm or cold, the vinegar mother will die. When vinegar mother dies, it darkens in color and becomes thicker or even solid.