What Is Vinegar?

Home & Family, Living Green
on November 10, 2011

You've used it in cooking, cleaning and in coloring Easter eggs. Vinegar can even be helpful when you're injured. You may think you know a lot about this household staple, but just what is vinegar really?

The substance of vinegar. Vinegar was probably discovered by accident when a keg of wine sat too long and had contact with oxygen. Vinegar consists of acetic acid and water. The process of creating vinegar is described in the Journal of Biochemistry. Acetic acid is formed through the fermentation process of bacteria (typically brewers yeast) converting the alcohol (along with sugars in wine, apples, grapes, sugar, rice, malt, etc.) to acetic acid. Additionally, a "mother," or starter, can be used as the source of the acid-producing bacteria. If you want to try to make your own vinegar, you can read up on the process at TLC's How Stuff Works.

How to use vinegar in cooking. Versatile vinegar is perfect for making barbecue sauce, marinating meats, or using in sauces, salads, pickling and more. Vinegar has fewer than 3 calories per tablespoon and zero fat grams, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How to use vinegar in cleaning. According to the Vinegar Institute, vinegar inhibits bacteria and mold, so it's great for cleaning just about anything. Use vinegar straight for stubborn, stuck-on grease such as in the oven or microwave or on the stovetop. Dilute vinegar with water to a half-and-half mixture and place it in a spray bottle. This mixture will clean and shine counters, glass, windows, mirrors and cabinets, and it even makes a great floor cleaner.

Vinegar's healing history. According to TLC's How Stuff Works, vinegar was used in medicine as far back as it was discovered. The Greeks and Babylonians used it as an antibiotic. It was used to dress wounds. Honey and vinegar was served as a drink for those recovering from illness. During the Civil War and World War I, medics treated wounds with vinegar.

Vinegar health claims today. These days, there are many people that believe in vinegar as a remedy. Some people drink a tablespoon of cider vinegar mixed in a glass of water daily. Devotees believe vinegar aids digestion. Vinegar has been espoused to reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels, lower the risk of heart disease, help ward off weight gain and promote weight loss. Some claim vinegar also can help fight cancer and protect against the effects of aging. Many advocates believe that apple cider vinegar releases calcium and minerals from the foods you eat so the body can absorb them easily. While supporting scientific research is minimal, anecdotal evidence suggests that vinegar (especially apple cider vinegar) may be therapeutic in many ways.