About Vinegar

About Vinegar

The text below is an excerpt from 'The Nome Guide to Fermentation'

Throughout Europe and probably the entire Western world, adding a splash of vinegar is the prevailing method of injecting a bit of freshness into whatever you’re cooking. The next time you have some store-bought orange marmalade, add a little vinegar and a pinch of salt to make it instantly more vibrant. If you’re making your own ice cream—depending on the type you’re making—a little fruity vinegar will give it an unexpected edge. And very few cooked vegetables or fruits aren’t improved with a hit of vinegar.

Before we really found our way with lacto-fermentation, most of the pickling done at noma was with vinegar. Here in Scandinavia, vinegar pickles are everywhere, likely because they’re so simple to make: Combine one part water, one part vinegar, and a little salt and sugar; add your fruits or vegetables; and let them sit. Vinegar-pickling plays less of a role at noma now, but is still used on ingredients like shoots, mushrooms, and seasonal flowers. Potent blooms like elder- flower, rose petals, colt’s foot, chamomile, or dandelion flowers are left to mature in apple vinegar for at least a few weeks in the fridge, before the pickled flowers find their way into all sorts of dishes, from roasted bone marrow to desserts. As a happy side effect, the vinegar takes on the flowers’ hue and fragrance and can be used to bring tartness to both sweet and savory dishes, long after the pickles themselves are gone. The same method can be applied to nice effect with fresh fruits. Many of the fruit vinegars you find at grocery stores are produced by soaking fruit in neutral-flavored vinegars.

Balanced acidity is crucial to a successful cooking, which is why we’ve always found vinegar to be such a powerful ingredient. The word vinegar comes from the Latin vinum acer—literally “sour wine.” But of course, that only scratches the surface of what vinegars can be. There are aged vinegars, such as balsamic, that have texture and sweetness. There are very strong vinegars that cut through anything with their acidity. On the other side of the spectrum, there are vinegars with very little acidity (only 1% or 2%) that you can drink straight from the bottle or use as sauces in their own right. Our Wild Rose Vinegar made from wild roses handpicked in the peak of summer is a perfect example of the latter. The lower acidity lets the original flavor shine through, bringing an additional layer of brightness.

On Vinegar

by Dr Arielle Johnson

Vinegar is the result of two distinct fermentation cycles: sugar is converted to alcohol (courtesy of yeast) and then, at some point, that alcohol is converted to acetic acid (courtesy of acetic bacteria).

The microbes in the second stage, acetic bacteria, love air and warm temperatures and can make themselves at home practically anywhere. That’s why any brewed or vinted alcoholic liquid left exposed to the elements, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will almost inevitably transform into vinegar. It’s also the reason many people describe vinegar as “the afterlife” of an alcoholic beverage.

The thing that ultimately makes a vinegar, vinegar is acetic acid. We have grown fond of this molecule for several reasons.

There are so many naturally occurring, tart-tasting acids in the world: citric and malic acid in apples and lemons; tartaric acid in grapes and tamarind; and lactic acid in yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles. But vinegar's acetic acid has a particular dimensionality to it that goes beyond the mouth-watering sourness all acids possess, chiefly a uniquely bracing, pleasantly pungent aroma—the smell of vinegar, its very calling card.

And while you typically encounter acetic acid in what was previously an alcoholic fermented drink—grapes fermented into wine that were then fermented into wine vinegar, for instance—acetic bacteria don’t really care how the alcohol finds its way to them. So: if you have a tasty liquid that’s less suited to yeasty fermentation—perhaps some squash or celery juice, or a brew of pine needles, or a tea of flowers—you can simply add concentrated alcohol and ferment to produce a vinegar. This has long been an essential technique in our toolbox, one that allows us to develop novel sources of sourness.

Acetic acid is also good at making greasy or fleeting molecules adhere to water. In your home, you might exploit this quality to better clean your floors or stovetops. In our lab and test kitchen, we harness it to capture and preserve the flavours and aromas of some of our favourite ingredients well past their season, and to express a range of nuances with the same product: whisky vinegar instead of straight whisky, for example, or rose vinegar instead of chewy rose petals.

About Wild Rose Vinegar

A rare seasonal treat, wild beach rose petals are foraged by hand and blended in incredibly high concentration to create a vinegar that is delicate, balanced, and floral. Wild Rose Vinegar is complimentary to many other flavors and works well in everything from a cocktail, to a main course, to dessert.