Monday, January 9, 2012

Vinegar, 10,000 Years Of Use And Still Alive And Well.

If you think about what is in many kitchens around the world one may not think about Vinegar right away. But yet, there is a very good change most all of us have a bottle or two of different types tucked away. For more than 10,000 years we have been using this multi-use product and show no sign of slowing down.
 The French call it “ vin aigre”  (sour wine). 

 Through the centuries vinegar has been produced from molasses, dates, fruits, berries, melons, coconut, honey, beer, maple syrup, potatoes, beets, malt and grains . The basics of Vinegar remain the same.  It is the fermentation of natural sugars to alcohol and then secondary fermentation to vinegar.

Our ancestors found out about the remarkable versatility of vinegar. Around 5,000 BC, the Babylonians used it as a preservative and as a condiment, and began flavoring it with herbs and spices. Roman legionnaires used it as a beverage. 

The beautiful Cleopatra dissolved her pearls in it to win a bet that she could consume a fortune in a single meal.  Even Hippocrates proved its medical qualities and was probably one of our earliest medicines.  The Greeks pickled vegetables and meats using vinegar.  Its military uses were found by Hannibal as he crossed the Alps with an army riding elephants. They used vinegar to open roads! Large boulders were heated and doused with vinegar, which cracked and crumbled the barriers. During the American Civil War, vinegar was used to treat scurvy, and as recently as World War I, it was being used to treat wounds.

The vinegar produced and used today is much the same way but with new flavors and uses.  New flavors like white distilled, cider, wine and malt can be found around the world as well as rice wine, raspberry, pineapple, chardonnay, flavored and seasoned vinegars and more.


Balsamic Vinegar
The most well known Vinegar is Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and classified as traditional or commercial grade.  Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Italy is made from white and sweet Trebbiano grapes grown on the hills around Modena.  The grapes are harvested as late as possible to take advantage of the warmth of the region.   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 and the nose is distinct, complex and sharp. The flavor is traditional sweet and sour in perfect harmony. 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.

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.

Rice Vinegar
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. Used in Asian dishes, Rice Vinegar is popular because it does not significantly alter the appearance of the food.

White Wine Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar is the aged and filtered product obtained through the 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.

Vinegar has been a mainstay is almost every culture around the world. Each one has found a new use for this remarkable product. Even today, 10,000 years later new uses for Vinegar are being discovered all of the time. Why not experiment on your own as well?  And find your own special use for this very versatile product. 

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