Inventive Infusions for a Classic Condiment

Give basic vinegar a new zest by imbuing it with herbal flavor fresh from your fall harvest.

  • Today, itโ€™s simple to slip vinegar into homemade salad dressings, sauces, chutneys, soups, shrubs, and more.
    Photo by Getty Images/asab974

Loathe as we might be to admit it, there are only so many herbs one kitchen can handle. Even when the beneficial plants are preserved as medicine, dried for seasonings, and tossed atop delicious meals, by the end of the harvest, you might be running out of creative ways to preserve and use the overabundance of your garden.

Luckily, there may be something you haven’t yet considered to save the bright flavor of your favorite garden herbs: infusing them. Many common cooking staples, such as honey and oil, combine delightfully with herbs and spices, but maybe none so well as vinegar. Vinegar’s acidic bite, packed with the fresh tastes of a flourishing garden, makes for a unique spin on a classic ingredient, and your infusion will be more versatile than the plain vinegar ever was. All you need is the herb or spice of your choice, and vinegar with which to pair it.

Vinegar’s Beginnings

One of the beauties of vinegar as an ingredient is its vast history as a food, disinfectant, and cleanser. The first record of the existence of wine is from Babylonia, circa 5000 B.C.E. Vinegar is the next natural step in the fermentation of wine and other alcohols, so the (likely accidental) discovery of this preservative and medicine couldn’t have come too long after. It’s from this fermentation that various vinegars receive their names: red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, malt vinegar, apple cider vinegar, etc.

From Babylonia, vinegar spread to Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and, eventually, the Western world. Vinegar became so well known, in fact, that in his 1st-century text Natural History, Pliny the Elder wrote of a bet between Cleopatra and Mark Antony in which she claimed she could eat the equivalent of $500,000 in one meal. When the meal arrived, she was served only one cup of vinegar; she dropped one of the two “largest pearls of all time” into the cup, waited for the vinegar to dissolve it, and swallowed it.

Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” prescribed his patients a mixture of vinegar and honey for persistent coughs. It’s claimed that medieval doctors created lavender and rosemary vinegars for unease, both of the stomach and of the brain. Early Greek, Roman, and Asian physicians suggested that vinegar aided digestion and lowered bile levels. As recently as the American Civil War, vinegar was used to treat scurvy, and in World War I, it was an accepted treatment for wounds.

Modern medicine verifies vinegar’s antimicrobial properties, but experts advise against using it to treat wounds or as an anti-infective, as it’s proven ineffective against certain bacteria. It’s better used as a disinfectant in the realm of food preparation. However, health studies are currently underway to test vinegar’s efficacy against hypertension, glycaemia, and even cancer.



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