Have you ever thought about learning how to make vinegar from scratch? The process is simple and the end result is tasty and unique. Almost anyone can learn! In this post, I’m going to show you how to create delicious, fermented fruit vinegar in your own kitchen!
Here’s how the process works!
How to Make Vinegar From Scratch
In order to create fruit vinegar, you need 1) fruit juice, 2) natural yeast and 3) acetic acid bacteria. The last two are naturally found in the air, so your job is to source 100% pure fruit juice!
Step 1: Source Your Fruit
If you live in fruit country and have access to a U-pick, or if you raise your own fruits and berries, the first step is easy! All you have to do is harvest your fruit!
Whether you’re working with berries, stone fruits, grapes or members of the apple family, always pick fruit at the peak of ripeness.
Remove stems, debris and leaves. Firmer fruits can be give a quick rinse, while soft fruits (like raspberries) should be picked over by hand.
This accomplished, it’s time to create your juice!
Step 2: Extract Juice from the Fruit
There are numerous ways to extract juice from your fruit, and methods vary according to fruit type. I go over all these techniques in my e-book on making fruit vinegar. For the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll give you one of the easiest methods today, one suitable for soft berries and grapes.
Line a large bowl with a cotton cloth. I like to use these ones here, but any type of cotton will do! Pour the berries into your cloth-lined bowl and grab an old fashioned potato masher. Vigorously break up the fruit, until it becomes a thick, mushy mess. Gather up the 4 corners of your cotton cloth, tie them together and hang your homemade cloth bag so it drips into the bowl below.
When the dripping stops, you’ll have a beautiful collection of raw, extracted berry juice, ready for fermentation!
Step 3: Pour Juice into a Food-Safe Container
You’ll want to use a food-grade container to hold and ferment your juice in. It could be a wide mouth glass jar, stoneware crock or a (food grade) plastic bucket. For berry vinegar, I prefer to use a 2 quart/2litre glass jar. To keep dust bugs at bay, you’ll want to cover the mouth of your container with a cloth or paper towel. It should be tied down with a string, elastic or canning band.
Why can’t you use a lid?
There are two reasons you shouldn’t use a lid: fruit flies and acetic acid bacteria. Let’s talk about fruit flies first.
Fruit flies will be drawn to the smell of your fermenting fruit juice. And they’re capable of creeping through the tiniest spaces. If your lid isn’t a perfect fit, you’ll soon find hundreds of tiny, white maggots swimming in your fruit juice.
The other reason is this: if your ferment is sealed off without airflow, airborne acetic acid bacteria won’t be able to flourish and grow. Let me explain how it works!
Step 4: How the Fermenting Process Works
The first stage of fermentation is a result of natural yeasts. These yeasts are airborne and can also be found on the skin of your fruit. It’s likely they are already present in your juice!
As your juice sits in a warm room (60-80F or 15-26C), these yeasts will become active and feed on the juice’s natural sugars. As they feed, they convert sugars to alcohol, releasing carbon dioxide. If you see bubbles on the surface of your liquid or the sides of your container, it’s a sure sign natural yeasts are in action!
This first phase of fermentation is called the “alcohol” phase. Because of, you know, the alcohol.
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But it doesn’t stop there. While these natural yeasts are busy consuming and converting the sugars to alcohol, an air-borne bacteria slips in to do its job. That’s right! This is why you can’t cover your fruit juice with a lid! If you seal it up, it will remain in alcohol form.
The air-borne bacteria takes the alcohol produced by the natural yeasts and slowly, converts the alcohol to acetic acid. That’s right! The very thing that makes vinegar what it is!
Step 5: The Length of the Fermenting Process
If you are fermenting no more than 2 quarts (1.5 litres) of berry juice, the first stage of fermentation will take anywhere from 3-4 weeks, a time during which your ferment will omit a light alcohol-like aroma.
Not so with the second stage! When acetic acid bacteria arrive on the scene, you’ll notice a distinct, pungent, vinegar-like aroma wafting up from the liquid. This aroma will continue to grow, until all the alcohol has been consumed!
And when it has? You’ll have nothing but a pure, raw fruit vinegar, ready to be put to use in the kitchen!
Step 6: Finishing Off Your Fruit Vinegar
Now that you’ve learned how to make vinegar from scratch, there are few things you need to be aware of when storing and keeping your fermented fruit juice!
Tip 1: Use Safe Storage Containers
When the time comes to bottle your finished vinegar, make certain you use food grade containers. Also see to it that your lids aren’t made of metal. Due to it’s acidic nature, vinegar can be corrosive and will eventually rust out metal lids, dripping unwanted metals into your fermented goodness!
If you are storing your vinegar in glass jars, I recommend using these white, wide mouth plastic lids.
In my home, I prefer to use glass bottles for smaller batches and glass gallon jugs for storing large amounts of vinegar. For lids, I like to use corks. They add an old-world feel to my kitchen. Plus, they’re eco-friendly, pretty and can be reused over and over again!
But wait. Before you go, we have to talk about testing your vinegar before sealing it up!
Tip 2: How to Test Vinegar Before Sealing It Up
It can be difficult to tell exactly when the bacteria has transformed all sugars to acetic acid. As a result, you’ll want to display caution when it comes to sealing up your “finished” vinegar. You see, if it isn’t actually finished, it will still release small amounts of carbon dioxide. If you seal that up, the results can be explosive!
The best way to tell whether or not your vinegar is ready to be sealed up is to seal it up! That’s right! Put it under tight seal and then check it in 1-2 day’s time. Was there a release of carbon dioxide? If so, you know it’s not ready quite yet. Let it sit for another 14 days, then try sealing it up again.
Don’t tuck it away in your cupboard just yet! If there wasn’t a release after day 1, seal it back up and let your fruit vinegar sit for 2-3 days at room temperature. No release? It’s ready to be tucked away in a cupboard for when you do need it!
Now you know how to make vinegar from scratch! I wish I had space to give you troubleshooting tips, recipes and hand you more details on how to use fruit vinegar in the home. But I’m afraid this post is too long already!
If you want to learn more, be sure to check out my e-book “Fruit Vinegar for Beginners.” It’s jam-packed with information and contains far more detail than I could fit in one single blog post!
All the best as you venture into the world of traditional fruit vinegar! And if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!