Vinegar: widely used, little understood

Resident Expert

Q How is vinegar made and how is this different from making alcohol? Why is vinegar such a good preservative that it is used in pickling?

- G.M., Dornbirn, Austria

A"Vinegar is a substance common to most cultures, yet most people know almost nothing about it," says Lawrence Diggs, author of "Vinegar" and founder of the the International Vinegar Museum in Roslyn, S.D.

Alcohol is produced by the reaction of yeast with sugar, which transforms the sugar into alcohol. (Grape juice subjected to the process would be transformed into wine.)

Whereas the process of making alcohol relies on the absence of oxygen, vinegar-making requires oxygen, Mr. Diggs explains.

"With vinegar you have a bacteria which takes oxygen and combines it with the alcohol and then that makes it acidic, and that acid becomes vinegar," says Diggs.

There are many varieties of vinegar, each differing in quality, strength and uses. Malt vinegar is made from the malt sugar of grains such as barley, oats, or rye, and is ideal for adding a dash of flavor to a dish.

The most versatile member of the vinegar family is cider vinegar, while balsamic is best incorporated into dressings and recipes.

Champagne, sherry, and rice vinegars are appropriate for garnishing meats and vegetables.

Vinegar is a good preservative and cleaning agent because the natural acid it produces is lethal to many varieties of harmful bacteria.

For exhaustive information regarding vinegar see

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail

Compiled by Joshua S. Burek and Stephen Humphries

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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