The Essential Guide to Vinegar

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vinegarThe name ‘vinegar’ comes from the French ‘vin aigret’, literally ‘sour wine’.

Vinegar covers all acetic fermentations where alcohol is converted into acid, regardless of the base material. Sherry, cider, wine, malt, rice and fruits can all be used in its production. In Australia, acidity levels must exceed 4% for a product to be labelled ‘vinegar’.

As one of the world’s great preservatives and condiments, the huge range of vinegars available today is reflected on The Essential Ingredient’s shelves.


The origins of vinegar are untraceable: it has been in use for thousands of years. One of the earliest references is from the 5th century BC, where Hippocrates recommended it for its medicinal powers. However, as now, its main use has always been as a flavouring and preserving agent.

Wine vinegar may be made from either red or white grapes, and the best method is called the Orleans system, using small wine barrels stored at the lowest possible temperature, prolonging the fermentation and resulting in the maximum extraction of flavour.

Commercially made vinegars are produced using the acetator method, which is generally faster and more economical but often results in bland, or sharp, flavours.


Champagne vinegar is made entirely of champagne stock, making it delicate with a clean, acid taste.

Sherry vinegar is the traditional wine vinegar of Spain, made by the same solera system used for sherry wines.

Balsamic vinegar comes from the provinces of Modena and Reggio in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It is traditionally made from white trebbiano grapes which are picked late to maximise sugar levels, then crushed and the ‘must’ allowed to run off. Unlike wine vinegars, which are made by a two-step process where the sugar is converted to alcohol then to acid, balsamic vinegar is made by converting sugar to acid only. The proliferation of imitations of balsamic vinegars has led to the formation of guilds in Modena and Reggio, with legislated rules of production and standards of taste required for a vinegar to be classified as ‘aceto balsamic tradizionale’.

Other vinegars include cider vinegar made from fermented apple juice, rice vinegar from rice wine (sake) in both China and Japan, and coconut vinegar from coconut milk, commonly used in Thai cooking. Chinese red wine vinegar is a cross between balsamic and rice vinegar. Sugar cane vinegar is produced in Martinique in the West Indies.

Thus, it is true to say that the cuisine of each country depends in part on the characteristics and uses of its own vinegar.

Within each of these broad categories there are many variations, including vinegars flavoured with herbs and fruits.

Verjus or verjuice

Not a vinegar as such as it is not made from a ‘mother’ or a fermented base, verjuice is an acid juice made from unripe grapes. With the tartness of lemon and the acidity of vinegar it is great for deglazing marinades and sauces.


The range of vinegars now available from both international and local producers offers almost unlimited choice to the chef or home cook.

While an essential ingredient in salad dressings and pickling of fruits and vegetables, vinegar can also be used in marinades to tenderise meats, added to poaching water to prevent separation when cooking eggs, and to enhance the flavours of boiled meat such as ham.

Balsamic vinegar is generally not used in cooking, but purely as a condiment to develop the flavours of cooked and uncooked vegetables and fruits, poultry, meats and seafood. It is excellent sprinkled on fresh berries.

The Essential Ingredient stocks a wide variety of vinegars from producers around the world. To understand more about the range of vinegars available, and their practical applications in the kitchen, visit your nearest The Essential Ingredient store today or shop for quality vinegars in our online store.

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