Living LifeWise: Kitchen Experiments with Flavored Vinegar

Living Lifewise Thursday, September 25, 2014 Written by

Living LifeWise is a regular column provided by LifeWise Ambassadors – LifeWise employees whose healthy choices are helping them live better lives. Today’s column is provided by LifeWise Ambassador Laura McLeod.

I could be trying to preserve the summer season’s bounty or decrease my food waste. Or maybe I’m just obsessed with vinegar. Perhaps it’s a bit of all three.

Whatever the reason, I find myself performing quasi-science experiments in my kitchen. And I’m hooked.

WHY VINEGAR?

I have always liked vinegar. You can use it for eating, cleaning, weed control, pest control and so much more. My first introduction to using vinegar for something other than a green or pasta salad was at Seattle Center’s Italian Festival (coming up, by the way, on September 27–28), when the featured chef made a balsamic reduction and drizzled it on fresh berries. That’s when my obsession took hold.

Then I learned about vinegar’s health benefits. A friend passed along a little booklet full of everything good about apple cider vinegar (ACV). Sold! ACV quickly became my favorite fall and winter tonic, mixed with hot water, cayenne pepper, ginger, honey and lemon. While I’m skeptical that all its purported health benefits are true, I have done enough research to trust it can help with digestion, mineral absorption and blood sugar regulation. Plus, I like it, and I suspect it helps strengthen my immune system. I rarely get sick now, and when I do, it passes quickly.

Flavored vinegar

Blueberry flavored vinegar (mixed with sparking water).

MAKING VINEGAR FROM SCRATCH

But the latest notch in my vinegar-obsessed hat came from a springtime visit to Willows Inn on Lummi Island, across the bay from Bellingham. We somehow scored a dinner reservation at Willows’ acclaimed dining room, and while the dinner — and the price tag — were memorable, it was the palette-cleansing, made-on-premises blueberry vinegar that captured my attention. Now I have a new vinegar-based spring and summer staple: sparkling water with flavored vinegar.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a worthy fruit- or berry-based vinegar. So last week, I gathered a pile of ground-fall Bartlett pears from my yard, climbed up and down my neighbor’s plum tree, did some more research… and now I have fruit fermenting in a back room. I have made herb-infused vinegars before, but this is the first time I’ve made vinegar from scratch.

The process takes several weeks, but it’s fairly simple. I chopped and smashed my collected fruit (including peels, stems and cores), added water, a smidge of ACV or sugar (I recommend trying different processes), and then covered my concoctions with small towels and set the containers aside.

The first batch required two weeks fermentation with a daily stir, followed by straining and rebottling for another few weeks of fermentation, checking only to make sure no mold is growing. Last weekend I picked up blueberries at my local farmers market to try and mimic my original inspiration, Willows’ blueberry vinegar. This requires a slightly different process than the other fruit vinegars — namely, retaining the liquid but swapping out berries every day for three days.

Flavored vinegar

From left to right: plum vinegar, blueberry vinegar, pear vinegar and honey balsamic vinegar (from Picnic in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood) mixed with sparking water.

OTHER BENEFITS

In addition to being refreshing and delicious and possibly improving my digestion and immune system, my water-and-vinegar tonics are a great way to extend the life of fruits and berries. (Someday I’ll do this with canning too!) I can make use of parts that otherwise would go directly to compost; even bruised and aging fruit is perfect for vinegar-making as long as no mold is present.

WILL IT WORK?

As for whether my own blueberry batch will taste as good as the tonic at Willows … this remains to be tasted. It’s a work in progress. The first batch is bubbling and starting to smell like alcohol, as it should. Stay tuned!
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Laura_McLeodLaura McLeod is an internal communications manager at LifeWise, and is convinced that lifestyle trumps genetics. Because her genetics include many lifestyle-based illnesses, she strives to eat well, exercise and get regular check-ups. While she’s officially reached ‘mid-life,’ she believes you’re only as old as you feel.  Laura lives in Ballard with her long-time partner and her energetic, playful cat. Learn more about Laura in our Living LifeWise video series

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