How It’s Made

Translated as “sour wine,” vinegar is made by two separate processes involving harmless microorganisms which turn sugars into acetic acid. The first process, known as alcoholic fermentation, occurs when yeasts change natural sugars to alcohol. Depending on the type of vinegar being produced, alcohol will be derived from grain, such as corn and barley, or fruit, such as grapes and apples. Once fermentation is complete, the alcohol is blended with water before undergoing the second stage of vinegar production.

The second process is known as the acid fermentation and occurs when a specific strain of bacteria, Acetobacter, converts the alcohol to acid. The vinegar then undergoes filtration and blending to adjust the grain strength, or acidity, of the finished product. Timing, bacteria and fermentation processes are all critical components of vinegar manufacturing and must be closely controlled to assure quality.

The finished product is comprised of water, acetic acid and trace amounts of minerals and vitamins. The presence of these minerals in the starter ingredients is what creates the unique flavors in the various types of vinegars.

Versatile Vinegar, "How Is Vinegar Made?"

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    White Distilled Vinegar

    White Distilled Vinegar is the most common type of vinegar in American households and is made from grain-based ethanol which is converted to acetic acid and diluted to preferred acidity with water. This type of vinegar is commonly found at supermarkets and hardware stores with 5% acidity (grain strength) in gallon (128 oz) and half gallon sizes (64 oz). White Distilled Vinegar can be used inside and outside of the home for: cooking, canning, pickling, cleaning, laundry, automotive and gardening needs, to name a few.

    Cleaning Vinegar

    Cleaning vinegar is a concentrated form of the most common vinegar in the American home, White Distilled vinegar. It has a higher acidity of 6% (grain strength) while White Distilled is 5%. This product can be used for cooking and pickling, though recipes may need to be adjusted to account for the increased acidity.  Cleaning Vinegar is considered a non-toxic, eco-friendly, and cost effective alternative to chemical cleaners. It can be used on a wide variety of surfaces and generally comes in 1 gallon jugs. This product became commercially available in 2013.

    Apple Cider Vinegar & Apple Cider Flavored Vinegar

    Apple Cider Vinegar is the second most common type of vinegar in American households. As its name suggests, this item is made from the juices of apples, which adds a tart and subtle fruit flavor to cooking. Apple Cider Vinegar is commonly used with salads, dressings, marinades and condiments. In addition, this product can be used for health, beauty and more. Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar is a variety of Apple Cider Vinegar which retains "the mother" of the vinegar, a naturally-occurring compound created during the vinegar's fermentation process. This is the type of vinegar some people associate with perceived health benefits, although it can also be used for cooking, drinking, and health & beauty. Apple Cider Flavored Vinegar is in fact White Distilled Vinegar with added natural flavor and caramel color. This variety is intended to replicate the flavor and appearance of Apple Cider Vinegar and is sometimes used when apple ingredients – a crucial ingredient in Apple Cider Vinegar – are in low supply. It is most commonly used in cooking in place of traditional Apple Cider Vinegar.

    Wine Vinegar

    A flavorful type of vinegar made from red or white wines, Wine Vinegar is most commonly used in Europe. Like other specialty vinegars, Wine Vinegars range in quality, depending on the ingredients and processing method. Better-quality wine vinegars use premium grapes and are matured in wooden casks for a couple years to develop flavor. Wine Vinegars tend to have a lower acidity than White Distilled Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegars and excel as in ingredient in dressings and marinades, lending subtle flavor.

    Balsamic Vinegar

    Classified as specialty vinegar, Balsamic is available in Traditional or Commercial varieties. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made from white Trebbiano grapes from the northern region of Italy which ferment for approximately 30-60 days before processing. This type of vinegar is aged in a wooden cask (chestnut, mulberry, oak, juniper, and cherry) and can be aged from 6 to as many as 25 years. This method is very time- and labor-intensive, which results in a low supply and a premium price.

    Each Traditional Balsamic Vinegar must pass a sensory examination before it is bottled under a stringent, highly regulated manufacturing process. A leaf rating system is used to denote the quality, on one to four leaf scale, with four being the highest quality. One leaf balsamic vinegar is best used for a salad dressing and four leaf is best used a few drops to season a dish right before serving.

    Some Commercial balsamic vinegar is made in Modena, but no traditional methods or geographical restrictions or rules for the method of aging. In the US, domestically produced Balsamic Vinegars are made from wine vinegar blended with grape juice or grape “must” and may include caramel color. To an undiscerning palate, Commercial Balsamic Vinegar has similar characteristics in taste, color and viscosity as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.

    Aside from the taste, a sure-fire way to spot the difference between Traditional and Commercial Balsamic Vinegars is to look for a PGI seal or “of Modena” claim. Balsamic Vinegars produced domestically cannot include either of these on their labels.

    Balsamic Vinegar’s sweet and fruity flavor is best used for dressings, sauces, meats and adding flavor to fruits and vegetables.

    Rice Vinegar

    Originated in Japan, Rice Vinegar is made by fermenting rice. Some rice vinegars are sweetened or seasoned with spices and other flavorings. Popular in Asian cooking and essential for sushi, Rice Vinegar makes a great addition to salads, stir-fry dishes and vegetables.

    Malt Vinegar

    Malt Vinegar is an English favorite made from barley. Rich in color and taste, this product has a distinctive flavor reminiscent of deep ale. Malt Vinegar is typically aged and is available in grain strengths (acidity) between 4% and 8%. Its robust flavor makes it an excellent seasoning for battered fish, French fries and other foods.

    Shrub Vinegar

    Shrub vinegar was developed during America’s colonial era as a way to preserve out-of-season fruit. Shrubs are made by mixing fruit, vinegar, and sugar, and are commonly used to flavor water, carbonated beverages, or spirits, though they can be drunk on their own. Shrub vinegars are currently trending in bars and restaurants as a mixer for cocktails.

    Other Vinegars

    Due to the demand for new products and flavors, other specialty vinegars have come into popularity in recent years. Some of these are made by blending common vinegars, while others rely on entirely new ingredients. Tarragon, Coconut, Cane, Beer, Raisin and Pomegranate are a few of the more recent non-traditional vinegar varieties, though many more can be found in your local grocery store.