It’s almost like magic: To harness the power of fermentation, all you really need to do is unleash yeast and bacteria (good-for-you bacteria, that is) into any of these foods. The process totally transforms their flavor, adding unusual sour, sweet, and tangy notes.
Making your own vinegar is the perfect example—and a great way to try out fermentation at home. You’ll need only two ingredients: vinegar with live active cultures (like Bragg's) and leftover wine. These bacteria are crucial, as they feed on alcohol and turn it into acetic acid, which is responsible for the signature tang.
A word on vino: Either red or white wine works, but we wouldn’t recommend mixing them together. The better-quality the wine, the better your wine vinegar will be.
How to make wine vinegar
First, combine wine and active vinegar in a sterilized glass or ceramic container (Epicurious suggests starting with a 2:1 ratio). Cover with cheesecloth, and store in a cool and dark spot, like the back of the pantry.
After about a week, you might notice a brownish blob forming on the top of your jar: that’s what’s known as the “mother.” Though it looks a little gnarly, don’t be put off—as long as it doesn’t turn green, it’s okay. It’s nothing more than the active cultures forming a cellulose raft as they turn alcohol into acetic acid.
Next, you wait—vinegar takes two to three months to ferment. Feed the mixture a little more leftover wine every week to keep it going. On day 30, give it a taste to gauge the progress, though it’ll probably still taste like wine. Try it again 30 days later. When the mixture has the unmistakably tart, acidic tang of vinegar, it’s ready.
Store the finished wine vinegar in jars or bottles with airtight lids. If you like, you can strain and pasteurize it. Save the mother, keeping it a sealed jar hydrated with a little vinegar in the fridge. When you’re ready to make another batch, follow the same process, but this time, add the mother to speed things along.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho