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What Is Vinegar?

Y. Chen
Y. Chen

Vinegar is a versatile liquid that is created from the fermentation of ethanol. The key ingredient is acetic acid, which gives it an acidic taste, although there may be additions of other kinds of acid like tartaric and citric. The typical pH of vinegar ranges anywhere from 2 to 3.5, although the store-bought kind usually measures 2.4. In food preparation procedures, it is a multipurpose product as an ingredient and condiment. Outside of cooking, vinegar has medicinal, household cleaning, and agricultural applications.

The name comes from the Old French vin aigre, which translates into "sour wine." Vinegar is made from the oxidation of ethanol in an alcohol-containing liquid, such as wine, fermented fruit juice, or beer. There are two processes of fermentation that differ by speed of production. While the fast fermentation process takes only hours to days, it requires the use of machinery to promote the oxygenation.

A small bottle of balsamic vinegar.
A small bottle of balsamic vinegar.

The slow fermentation process takes weeks to months and occurs naturally. At the same time, a nontoxic slime called mother of vinegar accumulates in the liquid. Composed of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose, mother is also available in stores and consumed by some despite its unappetizing appearance. Another part of the fermenting vinegar may include the non-parasitic nematodes called vinegar eels, which are free-living creatures that feed on the mother. While they are shown to be harmless to humans, manufacturers still filter them out of the product before bottling it.

Jars of pickled vegetables.
Jars of pickled vegetables.

There are many different types of vinegar, depending on what liquid the ethanol has been fermented in. For example, what is commonly known as white vinegar is brewed through oxidizing a distilled alcohol. Apple cider vinegar is made from apple must, which is the freshly pressed apple with its various solid components (pulp, skin, stem, etc.), and sold unfiltered. Similarly, the aromatic balsamic vinegar is made from the must of white grapes. Traditionally brewed in Italy, authentically aged balsamic is very expensive; the inexpensive store-bought varieties that are more common are made with a strong vinegar combined with natural flavors and sugars. In other parts of the world, vinegar derived from raisins, cane, coconut, rice, dates, and even honey are popular as well.

Red and white vinegar.
Red and white vinegar.

Vinegar is used in the pickling process, especially for dill pickles and peppers. It is also an essential component of marinades, salad dressings, sauces, and condiments. As a condiment, it is used to flavor potato chips or the British-style fish and chips. It makes a good substitute for lemon juice in dishes and can be used to flavor an assortment of meat marinades and sauces for pork and lamb. Often tossed with herbs, spices, and oils, vinegar can also be sprinkled directly on vegetables and fruit for a delicious, fragrant salad.

Salt and vinegar potato chips.
Salt and vinegar potato chips.

Vinegar, with its ancient origins and diverse applications, remains a staple in culinary, cleaning, and medicinal practices worldwide. Its production, through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria, gives rise to a variety of types, each with unique flavors and uses. As a versatile ingredient, it enhances dishes, preserves food, and even offers health benefits. For those seeking to complement a healthy diet, incorporating vinegar into meal preparation can be as beneficial as adding supplements like the best greens powders to one's routine, providing a simple yet effective way to support overall well-being.

Discussion Comments


How do you neutralize vinegar?


How do you know if vinegar is safe to use if you have stored it for a long time?


I am doing a research on what vinegar is, so this has been useful.


Why is it that vinegar both removes and causes rust? Also, why is it that it both removes stains from clothing and sets dyes?


Why can't we use vinegar batteries for electrical appliances?


vinegar is acidic and performs chemical changea. It works well with cleaning because it performs chemical reactions but the smell stinks!


@elsewhen: if taken in moderation, a tbsp a day, it can actually be a health benefit.

@matthew440: vinegar shines stainless steel and removes tarnishes and hard water spots

Vinegar can help remove certain stains on hard surfaces and certain stains in clothing, best to look up which kind, though. However it is true it also helps set color in new clothing. I wash my laundry with a 1/4 cup of vinegar in every load to help colours last, whites stay whiter and as a cheap, environmentally friendly and scent free clothing softener (the smell rinses out with the last rinse cycle, it helps the water lines too, it does not help static though).

For a buttermilk substitute use white vinegar or the juice of a lemon. 1 tbsp + enough milk to make one cup.

I actually use white vinegar in pretty much all my household cleaning. I avoid apple cider vinegar like the plague as I am extremely (hospitalized last time) allergic.

This is some good info, there are loads of sites too with more on the benefits of vinegar :)


I am allergic to vinegar. Every time i eat anything with vinegar in it i get vertigo that lasts for three weeks. Tying to avoid it but it's in everything.


i never knew any of this stuff. thanks. this was a lot of help.


vinegar works well for taking the cloudiness off of your dinner glasses and cups when hard water has built up on them, but it is very hard on hands. after 30 minutes it caused me to feel nausea from fumes which I didn't know would happen. any information out there on this guys? -sickonxmas


what is the pH level of: rice washings, overripe banana and coconut water?


why is vinegar non alcoholic when it is also produced by the fermentation process?


Re: removing stains: Don't know for certain, but I do know that you can use vinegar to set color in dyes (throw a cup of white vinegar into the wash with a new pair of jeans and they won't fade.) Thus, I'd worry more about -setting- stains than removing them.


vinegar has numerous benefits.


It is acidic.


in chemistry, is vinegar acidic or alkaline? :)


When you make buttermilk using regular milk and vinegar, do you use apple vinegar or white vinegar?


Would vinegar made from a wheat origin be problematic for Celiacs?


does anyone know about removing stains with white vinegar?


what is the osmolality of vinegar?


dear elsewhen,

you might get a stomach ache.


does vinegar tarnish stainless steel?


I like balsamic vinegar so much, that I eat it almost once per day. I hope there isn't a problem with consuming too much vinegar.

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    • A small bottle of balsamic vinegar.
      By: rimglow
      A small bottle of balsamic vinegar.
    • Jars of pickled vegetables.
      By: tuja66
      Jars of pickled vegetables.
    • Red and white vinegar.
      By: GeoM
      Red and white vinegar.
    • Salt and vinegar potato chips.
      By: andersphoto
      Salt and vinegar potato chips.
    • Apple cider vinegar is made from freshly pressed apples.
      By: Thibault Renard
      Apple cider vinegar is made from freshly pressed apples.
    • Vinegar is very versatile in meal preparation, from preparing marinades to salad dressings.
      By: valery121283
      Vinegar is very versatile in meal preparation, from preparing marinades to salad dressings.