October 2017
Homeplace & Community

Add Some Flavor

Prepare your own flavored vinegars to add excitement to a variety of dishes.

Flavored vinegars add excitement to salads, marinades and sauces. They also make special gifts. Flavored vinegars are easy and safe to make. Because vinegar is high in acid, it does not support the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria. However, some vinegars may support the growth of E. coli bacteria that may cause great harm. By following these procedures, flavored vinegars can be safely prepared and used.

Pre-Preparation

Containers. Select and prepare containers first. Use only glass jars or bottles that are free of cracks or nicks and can be sealed with a screw-band lid, cap or cork. Wash containers thoroughly, then sterilize by immersing the jars in a pan of hot water and simmering for 10 minutes, remove from the pan, drain extra water out and dry. Fill while the jars are still warm.

Herbs. Commercial companies that make herbal vinegars dip the herbs in antibacterial agents not readily available to consumers. As an alternative, briefly dip the fresh herbs in a sanitizing bleach solution of 1 teaspoon household bleach per 6 cups (1.5 quarts) of water, rinse thoroughly under cold water, and pat dry. For best results, use only the best leaves and flowers. Discard any brown, discolored, trampled or nibbled parts of the herbs. Fresh herbs are best picked just after the morning dew has dried.

Fruits, vegetables and spices. Fruits often used to flavor vinegars include strawberries, raspberries, pears, peaches and the peel of oranges or lemons. For variation, try fruits in combination with herbs or spices. Vegetables such as garlic, cloves and jalapeno peppers can also be used to add zest to vinegars. Thread these on thin bamboo skewers for easy insertion and removal. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with clean water and peel, if necessary, before use. Small fruits and vegetables may be halved or left whole; large ones may need to be sliced or cubed.

Vinegar selection. Use only high quality vinegars. Even the strongest herbs cannot diminish the sharp flavors of some vinegars. The type of vinegar to use as the base depends on what is being added. Fruits blend well with apple cider vinegar. Distilled white vinegar is best with delicate herbs. Wine vinegar works well with garlic and tarragon. Do be aware, however, that wine and rice vinegars contain protein that provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth, if not stored properly.

Preparation

Place the prepared herbs, fruits or spices in the sterilized jars, being careful to avoid overpacking the bottles. Use three to four sprigs of fresh herbs, 3 tablespoons of dried herbs, the peel of one orange or lemon, or 1-2 cups of fruit or vegetables per pint of vinegar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling (190 degrees), then pour into the containers and cap tightly. Allow to stand for three to four weeks for the flavor to develop fully.

The flavoring process can be shortened by a week or so by bruising or coarsely chopping the herbs and/or fruits before placing them in the containers and adding the hot vinegar. To test for flavor development, place a few drops of the flavored vinegar on some white bread and taste.

When the flavor is appropriate, strain the vinegar through damp cheesecloth or a coffee filter one or more times until the vinegar is no longer cloudy. Discard the fruit, vegetables or herbs. Pour the strained vinegar into a clean, sterilized jar. Add a sprig or two of fresh herbs or berries that have been sanitized as previously described. Seal tightly.

Storage and Use

For the best retention of flavors, store flavored vinegars in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place. If properly prepared, flavored vinegars should retain good quality for two to three months stored in cool room and six to eight months in the refrigerator. Leftovers should be frozen, refrigerated for use within 10 days or discarded.

Some people enjoy displaying pretty bottles of herb and fruit vinegars on a kitchen window sill. If left out for more than a few weeks, these bottles are best considered as decoration and not used in food preparation.

Flavored vinegars can be used in any recipe calling for plain vinegar. They add zest to marinades for meats and fish, and interesting flavors to dressings for salads, pastas and vegetables.

 

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.