Herb vinegar

Herb vinegar

The Produce Companion
Jeremy Simons

Making vinegar from scratch is simple, it just takes time and patience!

There are two basic stages in making vinegar – and it can be made from almost any liquid. In the first fermentation yeasts convert sugar to alcohol. In the second stage the alcohol is converted to acetic acid, or vinegar.

While you can start from the very beginning and make your own alcoholic liquid, it is easier to take a shortcut and start at the second stage, using alcohol, water and a vinegar starter or ‘mother’ to get the process going.

You can purchase the starter, or simply use what you have in the pantry, as starter can be found in the sediment of any wine vinegar or cider vinegar. This is the process I use.

To get started, pour off the vinegar from any preservative-free bottle of vinegar you have in the cupboard, stopping once you reach the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Pour the sediment into a large glass bottle. Fill the bottle with equal parts of pure water and either red wine, white wine or apple cider (alcoholic), depending on the flavour you desire. The better the quality of wine or cider you use, the better the vinegar will be. You can try any variety of wine – among the reds I love using cabernet sauvignon. Cover the bottle opening with a double layer of muslin and secure with a rubber band (leave the bottle’s lid off). Store in a cool, dark place for 3 months.

Commercially made vinegar is tested for readiness in two ways – the pH, and the acidity concentration percentage. Testing for acidity concentration requires a special test kit that is available from brewing suppliers. However, testing for pH alone is a good general indicator of readiness, and is much easier for the home vinegar-maker. You can use pH strips, which are available from pool shops, hardware stores and chemists. The colour of the strip will tell you how acidic the vinegar is – you are looking for a pH between 3 and 5. (The vinegar starts out alkaline with a high pH and gradually moves down, with 3 being more acidic.)

From 3 months to 6 months you should start testing your vinegar with the pH strips, and taste it at the same time to check the flavour. Once it is getting close to the right pH range, or is in the right range but you would prefer it a little more acidic, you should test the vinegar weekly. When you are happy with the vinegar, strain it through a piece of muslin into sterilised bottles and seal. It should keep for up to 2 years in a cool, dark place.

Vinegar made and tested this way is perfectly suitable for salad dressings or seasoning, but is not recommended for pickling due to the uncertainty of the acidity concentration.


Quantity Ingredient
handful your herb of choice, (such as tarragon, chives, rosemary or thyme)
white-wine vinegar


  1. Wash the herb and pat dry with paper towel or a clean tea towel. Cut if necessary, and put into a jar. Cover with white-wine vinegar. Seal and stand at room temperature for 2–3 weeks, turning or shaking the jar daily.
  2. Strain the vinegar, pour into a sterilised bottle, and seal. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months.

Cook’s note

  • Vinegar can be flavoured with spices, herbs, fruit and even vegetables. Use either red- or white-wine vinegar, or plain white vinegar if you prefer. I often use a commercially made straight white vinegar because the end product is more reflective of the flavour you are trying to impart. The process is simple: you just steep the ingredient in the vinegar for several days or up to a couple of weeks before straining. If you have used a fruit or vegetable, then you also need to heat the vinegar to boiling point after steeping. Pour into sterilised bottles and store the flavoured vinegar in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months.
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