How to Make Vinegar at Home

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Fruit-infused home-made vinegar
Fruit-infused home-made vinegar

With all the wine made, sold and drunk in the Cape, it stands to reason that you’re likely to find yourself with with some unpoured, uncorked wine some day. Why not use what’s left in the bottle to make your own vinegar from scratch at home? Yes, I know it seems like a slender prospect to many to have ‘leftover’ wine, but you need one scant cup of lightly oxidised wine to start off with and it’s really no effort at all – you just let nature take its course. Autumn, winter and spring are best for making vinegar, as airborne yeasts are less likely to run rampant in the cold and spoil your tenderly nurtured vinegar-in-progress.

This recipe appeared in my cookbook Relish: Easy Sauces, seasonings and condiments to make at home, published by Random House Struik in 2012.

Making your own vinegar

If you’re ever lucky enough to find a vinegar mother – a strange, flattish fungoid-looking thing called Mycoderma aceti – lurking at the bottom of a bottle of old vinegar, don’t throw it away! This is the substance that makes vinegar from soured wine. Simply put the mother in a sterilised clean glass jar and pour over a scant cup (250ml) of oxidised white or red wine. (That’s wine that you’ve left uncovered for several days to go sour.)

I often buy organic, unpasteurised cider vinegar, as this usually contains a vinegar mother, which appears as something cloudy at the bottom of the bottle. Simply strain off the vinegar and decant the mother into the jar you’ll be using to make your own vinegar in.

Now add a 1 T (15ml) of the matching wine vinegar. Cover the jar with a tight fitting lid and store in a dark, cool place for about 2 months, by which time your sour wine will have become vinegar! After this you can start to add more of the same type of wine to feed and increase your vinegar, provided the wine has been well-oxidised first. Oxidisation simply means exposed to air and left to turn sour, which happens to a glass or bottle of wine within 8-12 hours of being opened. So, a glass of wine left open overnight will be perfect for you to start your vinegar with. Don’t even think of adding fresh wine to your mother; this will kill it stone dead instantly. Treat your vinegar mother as you would your own: with respect.

The mother can be used over and over again, and will even multiply in time if you treat it carefully.

To make your own vinegar mother from scratch, I follow this method: I simply leave an open Consol jar filled with some wine and several tablespoons of the matching wine vinegar on my kitchen windowsill for three or four weeks. A mould will eventually start to form on the surface of the wine, underneath which the vinegar mother will start growing. Do not disturb the surface. If the mould starts bubbling and smelling off, you’ll have to throw it out and start again.

I was told by olive and vinegar specialist Chrisna Pepler not to worry if gnats fall into a glass of left-over wine or the jar of wine-becoming-vinegar; apparently they contain some enzyme that activates the vinegaring process.

Alternatively you can attempt to get a little seasoned wooden vinegar barrel from a wine-farm into which you pour 2 cups (500ml) dry white wine along with 2 cups (500ml) white wine vinegar or a vinegar mother. Continue adding the same quantity of wine once a week until the barrel is full to the top and don’t ever disturb the mould that forms on the surface. After 2 months you should have yourself some lovely home-made vinegar. Decant into sterilised glass bottles and label before storing.

You can flavour your home-made vinegar with all sorts of different additions like spices, fruit, honey, chillies etc. More posts about that at a later date.

Credits: Styling by Brita du Plessis/Photography by Sean Calitz Published by Random House Struik 2011 ©

Relish: Easy sauces, seasonings and condiments to make a home. A must for every kitchen!
Relish: Easy sauces, seasonings and condiments to make a home. A must for every kitchen!


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Celebrating life with food, wine, friends & happiness! Writer, cook and blogger. Author of four cookbooks. Passionately South African, proudly Capetonian.