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Sour wine

The word vinegar is derived from French words vin aigre which means ‘sour wine’, writes Sanjeev Kapoor.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2008 15:33 IST

Vinegar is the result of an accident.. it was probably discovered thousands of years ago after a cask of wine had gone bad. In fact, the word vinegar is derived from French words vin aigre which means ‘sour wine’.

When wine was first made, natural sugars were fermented into alcohol. Over time, bacteria in the air transformed the alcohol into acetic acid, which gave the ‘sour wine’ its bite.

It is this bite and zing that makes vinegar a must-have ingredient for vinaigrettes, marinades, food preserves, or any recipe that needs a little extra kick. Vinegar is a natural food, without harmful chemicals or preservatives used in it. Vinegar is a preservative itself!

But did you know that even vinegar can go bad.? An opened bottle kept at room temperature will add the bite and the zing for around six months, at best. After this the vinegar will lose much of its subtle flavour, leaving behind a harsh, sharp liquid. So ensure that you refrigerate the bottle or keep it in a cool, dark cupboard, away from light and heat.

Mother of vinegar
Buy small size bottles at first, moving onto bigger bottles if you find the level drops faster than anticipated. Some vinegars, if not stored properly or too long, will develop a cloudy look. This cloudy substance (called ‘mother of vinegar’, since it can be used to make more vinegar) can be filtered out with a paper coffee filter in order to salvage the vinegar. However, if either the mother or the vinegar smells bad or rotten, discard both immediately.

Vinegar is versatile. It is used for pickling, in vinaigrettes, salad dressings, in mustard sauce, in ketchup, mayonnaise and chutneys. It’s an excellent condiment especially in ‘fish and chips’. Marinades with vinegar tenderise meat.

Different strokes
Here’s a list of the types of vinegar available:
Balsamic vinegar: Made from the juice of grapes cooked and thickened before fermentation for four to 12 years.
Cider vinegar: Has low acidity, with the gentle distinguishable taste of apples.
Distilled white vinegar: While any vinegar can be distilled, malt vinegar is most often used for this process. Distilled vinegar is one of the stronger flavoured vinegars.
Fruit vinegar: Fresh soft fruits are used with bay leaf and cinnamon in white wine vinegar.
Herb or chilli vinegar: Fresh clean herbs are soaked in hot vinegar in a sealed bottle for two to three weeks.
Malt vinegar: Made from malted barley, this is a popular pickling agent for onions.
Rice vinegar: Commonly used in Asian cuisines, it is made from soured and fermented rice wines.
Wine vinegar: Made from both red and white wines, the quality of the vinegar depends on the quality of the wine. Balsamic vinegar is a classic example.
Sherry vinegar: Rich and aromatic, it’s a traditional offering from Spain used in sauces and sometimes straight into hot cooked vegetables.
Buying guide
When purchasing vinegar, keep in mind that you often get what you pay for. Some cider flavoured vinegars are really just cheap distilled white vinegar to which colouring and additional flavours have been added.
Sometimes what is sold as balsamic vinegar is simply red wine vinegar with caramel (or caramel colouring) added to make it syrupy and sweet like true balsamic.
More uses
When poaching eggs, add some white distilled vinegar to the water. The whites stay in form.
To make pasta less sticky and reduce some of its starch, add just a dash of white distilled vinegar to the water as it cooks.
Make onion odours disappear from your hands by
rubbing with white distilled vinegar.
Add moistness and taste to chocolate cakes with a spoonful of white distilled vinegar.
(The writer is a master chef, author and television host. Email at