Sunday, January 11, 2015

Micro Batch Vinegar

Once you have your hands on an active mother, you can experiment with all the flavors available to you.  The vinegar making process is extremely tolerant and it turns out alright without too much fuss.    Out of laziness, I don't measure and tend to mix more by taste as I vary the ingredients depending on how intense I want the vinegar to turn out.  Sometimes I will make a batch as small as a jam jar mostly to experiment with intensity. There exists a myriad ways of making vinegar but I tend to make micro-batches with high-end ingredients and the instructions below reflect just a rough guideline on how to make such a recipe.

I normally throw the following four ingredients into a wide mouthed glass jar:

  1. Flavor base like a sweet syrup - You can start with raw fruits like pineapple or apple but I tend to favor fruit syrups (i.e. Elderberry Syrup/Lingonberry Syrup) as the base as the resulting vinegars come out more intense.  The sugars have to convert to alcohol and then to vinegar.
  2. Liquor - Since I'm going for quality, I tend to use specialized liquors like Elderberry Liquor or Creme de Cassis but you can also use cheap amaretto and rum with good results. 
  3. Water - I use anywhere between 1-1 to 2-1 water to syrup ratio.  Some berry syrups can become too bitter at full strength.
  4. Mother -You can put a tiny square inch of mother, a spoonful of gunk, or sheets of it which will greatly accelerate the conversion. 
I place the cloth covered jars on a dark shelf and forget about it for a month or sometimes 3 months.    Don't forget to have a secure rubber band around the mouth of the jar as a fruit fly infestation is one of the annoying things that could happen to your vinegar.   After about a month, you can see a thin translucent layer of mother forming.  You can also taste it time to time to see how it transforms.  Sometimes I'll use the vinegar in it's lightly fermented state.

My most successful variations have been:
  • Double Elderberry Flower - Ikea Elderberry Syrup +  St. Germain Elderberry Liquer : Best with fruit salads, esp. citrus and shaved fennel
  • Double Berry - IKEA Lingonberry Syrup + Creme de Cassis - Fabulous with beet salads 
  • Carob Syrup + Rum - cracking with with persimmon salad.
Moderately successful:
  • Apricot + Amaretto - boxed Apricot Juice + cheap Trader Joe's Amaretto. 
  • buckwheat honey - just not as deep tasting as the carob syrup
  • lavender honey + rum - good but not great 
  • pomegranate syrup + rum
  • blueberry syrup - good but not as interesting as lingonberry
Not so successful:
  • wine - tastes like vinegar but kind of uninteresting compared to fruit syrups
  • honey + sake-  sake makes the vinegar taste flat and thin
  • pineapple - tangy but too harsh and boring compared to the fruit syrup vinegars
  • old raisins -  prison hooch
  • molasses - a little bitter
  • brandy - not worth the end product

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Last week in Fruitvale, I was lucky enough to try tepache at a Mexican restaurant called Huarache.  Originating from the Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco,  tepache is a tangy fermented pineapple brew spiced with cinnamon and cloves. The taste was deliciously funky embodying all the complexity of fermentation. 

I was so intrigued, I made my own batch thinking I would boldly take it to a BBQ. But then I did not feel so confident to bring this living brew learning many lactating mothers would be present.

As with any fermented product- no two batches are exactly alike and my version diverges quite a bit from Hurache's version as I also adapted the recipe a bit. Instead of the traditional dark cone of sugar - pilloncillo, I opted for coriander honey. I also added a knob of ginger for kick.  I was pleased with the results as the left over parts of the pine apple- rind and core that normally go to compost- have transformed into a refreshing fizzy treat for after a hard day's work. Every day each cup tasted remarkably different due to the ballooning levels of wee beasties working hard to convert the sugars into alcohol.  I strained it after four days and the brew is now effervescent and light with the color of lemonade.

Such experiments in fermentation can open up the mind a bit more.  Drinking a wild living brew makes one wonder how it ever came to be that the likes of Coke and Pepsi dominate our world.  I have a number of close friends and family whose weakness is the erstwhile soda.  Their addiction shows it's not so simple to choose differently even if you are willing to abandon such poison.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mother of Vinegar

Behold- the mother of vinegar.   The white suspicious rubbery layer - the mother- is a mat of acetobacter  responsible for converting the alcohol to acetic acid a.k.a. vinegar.  I had just a little square inch of it from a store-bought Italian raw apricot vinegar and from that inch, these discs grew.  But also in the unfiltered vinegar body, you will see fuzzy mucus-like suspended threads of the unformed mother. You can use both the soft gloop or the rubbery mat to get your vinegar kick started.

Acetobacter is aerobic and thrives in oxygenated environments.  Since I don't heat my vinegar, I've seen that even a small inch air gap in a closed bottle is enough oxygen for mother to grow.

I started multiple batches three weeks ago and now they have transformed to proper mouth puckering vinegar.  You can see below the mother separated in two layers- this was when I disturbed her too much.  I've seen industrial mothers that are many inches thick but the home grown mother rarely gets thicker than a centimeter before peeling off.

One can eat the mother as it's purportedly good for your digestive health- it's chewy and slightly sweet and you can dip it in sugar and also dry it into a candy.  But it's better you can share to get someone else started on the craft of vinegar making.

My first batch ever, I made a sweet rum wash with carob syrup and hid it in a dark warm corner- both leftover ingredients in my pantry that didn't really have any useful life.  The tangy taste of this particular set has a deeper richness and complexity due to the minerals in the carob syrup.  Carob vinegar is common in Cyrpus but I haven't seen an easy supply in the bay area so I'm curious how this compares.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sauerkraut Sunday

Yes it's sauerkraut Sunday and two Sundays in a row I've been busily chopping up red cabbage and red onion.  For the initial ferment to get started, Lactobacillus needs an anaerobic environment.   Koreans used to bury their urns in the ground to keep the air out. I just employ these Fido jars with an air tight seal. Despite the warnings of mold forming if the vegetable are above the brine, I suffered no such troubles with a Fido seal.  

Don't try to jumpstart the sauerkraut with juice from the previous batches juice.  The bacteria that's active in the later stages of fermentation is NOT the lactobacillus which needs to get the fermentation started.

Last week's batch is chock full of bio activity and ready to eat although it's still on the slightly crunchy side. Sauerkraut is a living food and it's taste transforms daily.