Dietribes: Vim and Vinegar

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• Vinegar is, essentially, fermented fruit, though it can be made from anything containing sugar. "Typical retail varieties of vinegar include white distilled, cider, wine (white and red), rice, balsamic, malt and sugar cane. Other, more specialized types include banana, pineapple, raspberry, flavored and seasoned (e.g., garlic, tarragon)."

• "I can pickle that!" you say. Well, not so fast: "If you attempt to make vinegar at home, we are sure you’ll develop an appreciation for the difficulty of this ancient art and science. Be careful. While homemade vinegar can be good for dressing salads and general purpose usage, its acidity may not be adequate for safe use in pickling and canning. Unless you are certain the acidity is at least four percent, don’t pickle or can with it."

• Recently my mother mentioned "Mother" in vinegar, which is actually a cellulose produced by the vinegar bacteria itself. Pasteurization usually gets rid of this stringy substance, though its presence doesn't mean that the vinegar is spoiled.

• Vinegar has a variety of non-food uses, such as a cleaner (one of my favorites, actually) and as a weed killer.

• A 1950s haircare guide suggests rinsing hair in a vinegar solution to truly get rid of old product (and it works!)

• Vinegar can dissolve pearls. Pliny the Elder wrote that Cleopatra made a bet with her lover -- the Roman leader Marc Antony -- that she could spend 10 million sesterces on one meal. She dropped a pearl earring in a vessel of vinegar, and when it dissolved allegedly drank it. (Cleopatra, the original 1%).

• We are all familiar with what happens when you combine vinegar and baking soda - a volcano! (and in this case, the world's largest!)

• Though I am not a fan of vinegar and avoid it (unless cleaning!) there are some strange ways to consume the stuff out there, such as Lemon Vinegar Kit Kats as well as Vinegar cocktails!

• The idea for this Dietribe came from reading a great article I linked to this weekend about vinegar's relation to the Victorian fainting couch. Furthermore, it seems that ladies of the time would dabble it into jeweled containers to make their progression through the smelly streets of town more pleasant.

• Not all vinegar was seen as pleasant, though. According to the New York Times, "No immigrant food was more reviled than the garlicky, vinegary pickle. Pungent beyond all civilized standards, toxic to both the stomach and the psyche, the pickle was seen as morally suspect. As Dr. Susanna Way Dodds wrote in the late 19th century, “the spices in it are bad, the vinegar is a seething mass of rottenness ... and the poor little innocent cucumber ... if it had very little ‘character’ in the beginning, must now fall into the ranks of the ‘totally depraved.’ ”

• For those who do enjoy it, it seems that vinegar sales are somewhat seasonal, with a peak in the summer months and a secondary peak in April most likely due to the Easter holiday and the use of vinegar in dying Easter eggs. Vinegar can also make for rubber eggs, plastic milk and a rubber chicken bone (it's science gone mad!)

• And if you really really really love vinegar, you can always visit the International Vinegar Museum.

• What do you put vinegar on, Flossers? And what is your favorite kind? I can't stand the smell or taste of it, but I can report that it does help calm an upset stomach!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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March 21, 2012 - 10:55am
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