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.
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.
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.
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.