Vinegar is an ancient ingredient that’s long been used as a preservative, condiment and household cleaner. But, as Dietitian Lisa Yates discovers, there’ are other benefits, too.
What is vinegar?
Vinegar is made when yeast reacts with certain foods, fermenting natural sugars into alcohol. The bacteria Acetobacter then converts the alcohol into acetic acid, which is responsible for vinegar’s distinctive, tart flavour and pungent odour. The distinctive flavours of each vinegar come from the foods first fermented.
Varieties of vinegar
Fermented grains such as corn, rice and wheat produce white or malt vinegars; fermented fruit (wine grapes, raisins, apples) make red or white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
True balsamic vinegar comes from Modena in Italy. It is made using special grapes, which are fermented slowly to develop the dark brown colour and sweet sour taste. Balsamic glazes have a higher sugar content and are used for desserts.
Malt is produced when grains are soaked in water and germinated. This causes natural enzymes in the grain to convert starch into sugars which are then fermented. Malt vinegar is popular for pickling and for sprinkling over fish and chips.
Red and white wine vinegars
These vinegars are made from wine grapes and have an acidic flavour similar to the grapes they come from. Wine vinegars can be used in salads and added to sauces.
Choose a vinegar that best suits your needs. Balsamic can be used for marinades, dressings and in making sauces. Red wine vinegar and sweeter balsamic glazes or apple cider vinegars can be poured over fruit and ice cream as a dessert.
Buying and storing vinegar
Vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration due to its high acid content. White vinegar will remain virtually unchanged indefinitely. Other vinegars may change colour or produce sediment but can still be used safely.
Nutrients in vinegar
Minute traces of minerals such as potassium, sodium and calcium may be present, as well as some polyphenol antioxidants. Some sweeter, dessert-style vinegars also have a higher sugar content, containing around 110kJ in 20ml.
One study has suggested that those using oil and vinegar dressing five or more times a week had a lower risk of fatal heart disease over those that didn’t. But more research is needed.
Diabetes and blood glucose
Studies have shown that adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar to a meal containing carbs can reduce the glycaemic index (GI) of the meal by 30 per cent in people without diabetes and by about 17 per cent in those with diabetes.
Adding vinegar to food slows its passage through the digestive system, allowing the body to send ‘fullness’ signals; reducing the amount eaten.
How much should you eat?
Enjoy a tablespoon of vinegar a few times a week as a dressing on salads, over roasting meat or to pickle vegetables. Avoid eating too much as high acid levels may cause injury to the oesophagus.
Tips for buying vinegar
Choose a vinegar that best suits your needs.
Look for vinegars with as few additives as possible.
For a budget option, choose malt or white distilled vinegars.
When buying balsamic vinegar, choose one that has been aged for more than four years for the best taste.
Tips for using vinegar
Poaching fish? Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to the water to keep fish from crumbling.
Boiling an egg that’s cracked? Add vinegar to the water to stop the white from running out.
Get the last of the salad dressing out of the bottle by pouring a little vinegar into it and shaking well.
Freshen up slightly wilted vegies by soaking them in cold water and vinegar.
Tenderise tough meat by rubbing in a mix of vinegar and oil; refrigerate for two hours.
Add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar to boiling water before adding rice, to make it fluffier.
Healthy Food Guide suggestions
Cornwell's Apple Cider Vinegar (36c/100ml) Made from 100% apple cider, 4% acidity. Great for marinating, free from additives.
Melrose Organic Apple Cider Vinegar ($1.38/100ml) Certified organic, made from 100% mature apples, no additives, unpasteurised, 5-6% humidity. Makes sweeter dressings.
Mazzetti Balsamic Vinegar of Modena ($1.23/100ml) From Modena, Northern Italy; 6% acidity and has natural sulphites. Use for dressings and marinades.
Mazzetti Balsamic Glaze ($3.62/100ml) Higher in energy from sugar, glucose syrup and starch; so use this less frequently. Pour over fruit for dessert.
Woolworths Home Brand White Vinegar (6-10c/100ml) Cheaper if purchased in a 2L bottle. A great all-purpose vinegar, no added colours. Useful for cleaning as well.
Woolworths Select Red Wine Vinegar (60c/100ml) 100% naturally fermented red wine vinegar, contains natural sulphites, 6% acidity. Use for red meat marinades, stews and casseroles.