Guest Post ~ Your Vinegar May be Made from Petroleum Products

Today’s guest post comes from Free Range Mama who blogs at My Green Healthy Family. Free Range Mama is a home-cooking, organically-growing, chicken-raising, goat-milking, clay-throwing, food-preserving, sustainably-living, line-drying, eco-friendly mom of three.

The other day I was interested in finding out how vinegar is made. Distilled white vinegar, to be precise. I use it for cleaning, pickling, and cooking. I usually buy a large, plastic container of it and since I am trying to avoid the use of plastic when food is involved, I wondered if I could make it myself. I always, ALWAYS thought vinegar was made from food. Potatoes, apples… I didn’t really know but I never guessed that vinegar can and may be made from petroleum products. Wikipedia proves this:

Vinegar is made from the fermentation of a variety of sources mainly containing carbohydrates and sugars. Ethanol is first produced as a result of fermentation of sugars, ethanol is then oxidized to acetic acid by the acetic acid bacteria (AAB). The ethanol may be derived from many different sources, including wine, cider, beer, or fermented fruit juice, or it may be made synthetically from natural gas and petroleum derivatives.

Blech! I chose to use vinegar as a cleaning agent because it didn’t contain chemicals. It was “all natural”. I certainly wouldn’t choose to cook or pickle with products made from petroleum!

Now to check our labels. I just bought a large container of Allen’s Vinegar to use for pickling. Nowhere on the container does it say what its origin was. I looked up their website and found the same thing. They advertise how vinegar enhances natural taste of vegetables and so on, but they do not say that they are made from beer, cider, wine, or fruit. I have emailed them but have yet to receive a response. Heinz Vinegar website states the following:

The All Natural National Brand Vinegar
Heinz® Distilled White and Apple Cider Vinegars are guaranteed to only be made from sun ripened corn or apples

Thumbs up for Heinz!

Researching this topic proved to be extremely difficult. There is very little information about whether or not the vinegar you buy on the shelf is from a natural or synthetic source. We have proof that it is legal to make and sell synthetic distilled white vinegar for consumption. Grist quotes the following from the FDA:

Synthetic ethyl alcohol may be used as a food ingredient or in the manufacturing of vinegar or other chemicals for food use, within limitations … Any labeling reference to synthetic alcohol as “grain alcohol” or “neutral grain spirits” is considered false and misleading.

Buyer beware. If the company doesn’t advertise what the origin is, it might not be from food. Check your label and your website before you clean your bath tub, pickle your precious, organic vegetables, or use in your home cooking. I am ditching this plastic jug of petroleum by-products. Blech! Who knew?!

By the way, I am still looking for a good vinegar recipe…

Note: We are talking about distilled white vinegar not apple cider vinegar, red or white wine vinegar etc.

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4 Comments

Filed under Food, Living from Scratch, Sustainable Living

4 Responses to Guest Post ~ Your Vinegar May be Made from Petroleum Products

  1. Farmer's Daughter
    Twitter:

    Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention… I had no idea! I have a bottle of white vinegar of undetermined origin in my bathroom for cleaning purposes… I tend to use Heinz in a glass bottle for cooking, but I’ll definitely think about the origins in the future! Even if I’m not eating it, I don’t really want to use more petroleum…

  2. KIMBERLY ALEXANDER

    I found this on eHow.com for you. Please note at the bottom of the article that it says not to use for pickling.

    Trusted advice for the curious life
    How to Make Distilled Vinegar
    By Ezmeralda Lee, eHow Contributor

    Distilled vinegar is used daily in over 300 applications. Beyond its popular use in food preparation and weight control, distilled vinegar can be used as a household cleaner, in the laundry, as an herbicide in gardening, in laboratory and pharmaceutical applications, and as a medicinal remedy.

    In making distilled vinegar, the alcoholic fermentation process combines cultures of mother of vinegar, a gelatinous, harmless vinegar bacterium found in older bottles of vinegar, with alcohol to produce vinegar. The bacteria cause the alcohol to turn to acetic acid and water. When the alcohol becomes acidic, it produces a unique taste in the vinegar. While the acetic acid brings out the primary taste component, it is the alcohol itself that provides the vinegar with its presence.

    Difficulty:
    Moderate

    Instructions
    Things You’ll Need

    2 cups white wine (5- to 7-percent alcohol content)
    2 cups water
    Mason jars
    Heavy paper towels
    Rubber bands
    Funnel
    Thermometer
    Mother of vinegar

    1

    Combine the wine and water and expose the combination to air 24 hours prior to the fermentation process.

    Add a piece of the mother of vinegar to the water and wine combination and mix it in thoroughly to start your vinegar. Pour the mixture into Mason jars.
    2

    Cover the open jars with paper towels and secure with rubber bands. The covering protects the mixture from contamination from airborne vinegar flies and vinegar eels. The insects would otherwise feed on the mother of vinegar that occurs in naturally fermenting vinegar.
    3

    Place the jars in a warm, dark place between 74 to 86 degrees. It can take roughly one to six weeks to convert the alcohol to acetic acid; the time will vary depending on the temperature.
    4

    The “wash,” or weak, alcoholic liquor, will ferment slowly. As you check it during the weeks to follow, judge the strength by its taste until it reaches a taste you like. When the vinegar begins to weaken in flavor, it is done.
    5

    Pasteurize the vinegar by heating it to at least 140 degrees; hold this temperature for 30 minutes, routinely checking it with a cooking thermometer.
    6

    Filter the young vinegar through coffee filters into sterilized bottles using a funnel. The vinegar preserves itself and will not require refrigeration.

    Store at room temperature and out of the way of direct sunlight for six months. Storing the vinegar is a crucial step in achieving the ultimate smoothness and quality. After the alcohol is turned to vinegar, you can age it to improve its taste.

    Tips & Warnings

    This fermented mixture gives an acetic acid concentration of 5 percent.

    Do not use homemade vinegar for pickling and canning. Do your pickling or canning with store-bought vinegars, where you know for sure that the acidity is 5 percent.

  3. HOLY COW! I would have never realized that. … it makes me feel slightly better about having bought huge jugs of Heinz and never bothering to look for other sources…

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