If you’ve strolled down the wellness/health aisle of any local supermarket, you are sure to have spotted the shelves packed with various brands of apple cider vinegar (‘ACV’ for those who use it as frequently as toothpaste.)
While the wellness and health movement have helped spur on the apple cider vinegar trend, vinegar itself has been used for centuries – not just as a food staple, but also for its healing and medicinal properties which is why vinegar is actually categorised as a ‘functional food’ – in the sense that it has health-giving properties. In fact, it’s even been said that John Adams, the second president of the United States drank apple cider every morning for breakfast.
It all came about by accident
Like almost all things culinary, the production of vinegar came about as a complete accident when someone a long long time ago forgot about some syrup that was extracted from a date palm, and it began to ferment. When fermentation takes place, bacteria and yeast from the air (over time) converts the alcohol into acetic acid which results in that sour, mouth-puckering and tangy taste.
Since then it’s had a plethora of culinary uses like pickling fruits and vegetables, preserving meat (hello biltong!), as an addition to shortcrust pastry dough (it keeps the gluten strands from getting too long – resulting in a flaky, ‘short’ pastry). You can also include a drop of vinegar to egg whites when making meringue as it helps to prevent overbeating so you don’t land up with lumpy whites or a total foamy collapse with no structure. And of course we can’t overlook its most common use in domestic households – as an ingredient in salad dressings and marinades.
While commercial vinegar is generally made quickly with acetic acid and water, you want to get your hands on some that’s been naturally fermented – red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or aged balsamic vinegar.
Bottom line is that it adds a zippy brightness to a dish that resonates with our ‘sour’ taste receptors on the sides of our tongues, creating a wonderful balance of flavour when combined with something sweet, salty or bitter. Which is why the presence of acid in cooking is so important.
What ways do you like to use vinegar in cooking?
Try my favourite creamy, tangy tahini dressing that I literally throw on everything!
4 Tbs tahini
1 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
2 tsp honey
3 Tbs white wine vinegar
4 Tbs good quality fresh olive oil (I always use local)
few drops of filtered water to loosen.
Whisk together the tahini, salt, pepper and honey and then add the liquids, whisking until the mixture is velvety and smooth. Taste before using as you might like to adjust the salty, sweet or sour elements to your liking. It’s all about the balance!