The origin of vinegar
Born from the marriage of alcohol and time, vinegar is the result of a wonderful natural alchemy which sharpens wine and turns it sour, hence the name, originally from the French 'vin-aigre' (sour wine). Anybody who leaves a bottle of wine uncorked, upon discovering it later will find a sour and pungent liquid. In fact, under the effects of a bacteria known as the "mother", the alcohol is transformed into acetic acid.
There is historical evidence of the use of vinager by the Babylonians, dating back more than 5000 years. It almost certainly appeared at the time of the first alcoholic drinks.
Many paintings discovered in Egyptian burial tombs from the 11th and 13th dynasty show people busy brewing. Legend has it that Cleopatra made her own entry into the the vinegar history book by making a bet with Anthony that she could eat a meal of a million sesterciums. How did she go about winning her bet? At the start of the banquet, she placed a valuable pearl in a vase filled with vinegar, then at the end of the meal she simply drank the beverage in which the pearl had dissolved!
In Roman times, the "Posca" , a refreshing mixture of water and vinegar was part of every meal.
During the middle ages, vinegar was heavily used, not only as a drink and condiment, but also for washing and for treating many illnesses such as the plague, leprosy, fever, snake bites...
From the reign of Charles VI, the occupation of vinegar-distilling was made into a corporation which was first registered on the 28th October 1394 in Paris. This was joined in 1417 by the 'buffeteers' , the statutes were completed in 1514 making up a trade body under the official title of "Vinegar-makers, mustard and sauce-makers, brandy liquer and rectified spirit distillers". "... Workers in this trade had to be "sound in limb and clean in dress". Alchimists were interested in vinegar from early times, the vinegar-makers jealously guarded their manufacturing secrets .
Do you know the story of the famous "4 thieves vinegar"?
This vinegar was made famous during the plague epidemic which hit Europe in the 17th century. Strangely, the brigands who robbed the sick and looted the cadavers did not contract the illness. Once captured, they were freed only in exchange for the recipe for the vinegar in which they bathed before committing their crimes.
It was only in 1865 that Pasteur solved the mystery surrounding vinegar through his scientific discoveries.
His research on fermentation and the role of microscopic organisms uncovered the process of acetification: it is in fact produced by a bacteria; the acetobacter transported through dust in the air. He named it mycoderma aceti because he believed that it was a fungus.
This bacteria fixes the oxygen in the air to the alcohol and transforms it into an acid.
Then gradually, during the fermentation process, the bacteria develop on the surface to form a whitish skin, called the "mother" of the vinegar. When the this skin accumulates to a certain point, the bacteria die and fall to the bottom of the container until all the alcohol in it is consumed.