An ordinary staple in kitchen pantries, vinegar often gets little notice. But this tangy condiment that was discovered more than 10,000 years ago has plenty to offer--from being a tasty cooking ingredient to an effective cleaning and healing agent. Not all vinegar is the same, though. In fact, vinegar takes on many different colors, uses, and flavors, which makes selecting the right variety nothing to take lightly. Here are five reasons to be finicky about vinegar and why choosing and using it wisely can make all the difference to your health and daily living.
Vinegar Contains Sulfites
Sulfites are potentially harmful chemicals that act as preservatives in certain foods. While many varieties of vinegar contain sulfites, the news isn't all bad. Sulfites occur naturally during the fermentation process and help kill off bacteria. It's the vinegars with added sulfites that you'll want to avoid. For the safest vinegar, choose sulfite-free or organic varieties, and be particularly cautious of sulfites if you have a known reaction to them.
Flavors Run the Gamut
Because vinegar is the byproduct of the food from which it is fermented, it takes on the taste of that food. Today, vinegar comes in flavors ranging from raspberry to apple cider to garlic and herb--and everything in between. If flavor is your endgame when it comes to choosing vinegar, go for the variety that will best complement your food. For the most zest, choose vinegar that has aged for at least six months, which results in a fuller-bodied flavor.
Each Has a Main Purpose
Not all vinegars are the best for cooking but may work great for household chores. Still others have proven medicinal value. White vinegar, for example, may do little to enhance your gourmet recipes but will do wonders for giving your windows a streak-free shine. Likewise, Japanese rice vinegar won't help heal acne like apple cider vinegar but can be the perfect choice for pickling ginger and vegetables. Be sure to research vinegar for the purpose you want it to serve.
In order for vinegar to do its job--whatever that is--you'll want to make sure it stays fresh. The good news is you've got lots of time. Vinegar has a solid shelf life of about two years. After that, trade your bottle in for a new one. Because vinegar is highly acidic, you don't necessarily need to store it in the refrigerator. A cool, dry place works fine. Cloudy vinegar, which happens naturally due to harmless bacteria, can be strained through a coffee filter.
Not All Vinegar is Authentic
Mass-produced vinegars aren't always what they claim to be. Some balsamic vinegars, for example, are actually colored or sweetened wine or cider vinegars. Authentic balsamic vinegar is made from aged grape must and can be quite expensive, unlike most versions you see at the grocery store. Imitation vinegars can still be useful in cooking; they just won't be the real deal and may lack strength and rich flavor.
Versatile and flavorful, vinegar is something everyone keeps on hand for one reason or another. Get to know vinegar in all its forms and make a point to be selective when choosing it. You'll learn how to make the most of this age-old liquid for cooking, health, and hygiene.