This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Information Specialist, and E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 02/01. Revised 11/05.)
Vinegars garnished with sprigs of herbs or a layer of berries add excitement to special dishes by their tantalizing blend of flavors. Flavored vinegars are easy and safe to make at home, provided some simple precautions are followed.
As long as clean and high-quality ingredients are used, the greatest concern with homemade flavored vinegars should be the development of mold or yeast. If your flavored vinegar starts to mold at any time, or to show signs of fermentation such as bubbling, cloudiness or sliminess, discard the product and do not use it.
Some harmful bacteria may survive and even multiply slowly in some vinegars. It is important to follow directions carefully, store flavored vinegars in the refrigerator or cool places, and work in a very clean area with sanitary utensils. Also, be sure your hands are very clean while you work!
CAUTION: Unlike vinegar, oil flavored with herbs or garlic may allow for the growth of the disease-causing, Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria produces a potentially deadly toxin in low-acid, air-free environments. In 1991, the Food and Drug Administration mandated the addition of an acid to all commercial garlic-in-oil preparations as a safeguard. This addition of acid is virtually impossible to do correctly in a home or restaurant kitchen.
Oils may be flavored with herbs or garlic if they are made for fresh use, stored in the refrigerator and used within two to three days. Discard if left at room temperature over two hours. There are no canning recommendations. Ingredients must be washed well and dried completely before storing in the oil. The very best sanitation and personal hygiene practices must be used.
Containers: Only glass containers are recommended for your flavored vinegars. Use glass jars or bottles that are free of cracks or nicks and can be sealed with corks, screw-band caps or two-piece canning lids. Wash containers thoroughly in warm, soapy water and rinse well. (A good bottle brush is a big help for narrow containers.) Then sterilize the clean, warm jars or bottles by completely immersing them in water and boiling for 10 minutes. Prepare the sterilizing bath before you wash the jars, or keep the clean jars in warm water until you are ready to put them in for sterilizing.
The best way to prevent breakage while sterilizing jars is to use a deep pot with a rack in the bottom, such as a boiling water canner. Fill the canner or pot at least half full with warm water. Place the empty, warm jars or bottles upright on the rack and make sure the water level is 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a boil, and continue boiling for 10 minutes. The jars should stay underneath the boiling water the entire time.
After 10 minutes of boiling, remove the jars or bottles from the water and invert on a clean towel. Use canning jar lifters or tongs that grab the containers without slipping. Fill the jars with prepared vinegar while they are still warm.
Lids & Caps: If using screw caps, wash in hot soapy water, rinse and scald in boiling water. (To scald, follow manufacturer’s directions, or place caps in a saucepan of warm water, heat to just below boiling and then remove from the heat source. Leave caps in the hot water until ready to use). Use non-corrodible metal or plastic screw caps.
If using corks, select new, pre-sterilized corks. Use tongs to dip corks in and out of boiling water three to four times. Prepare two-piece metal home canning jar lids according to manufacturer’s directions for canning. If using these lids, allow enough head-space between the lid and the vinegar so that there is no contact between them. Plastic storage screw caps that are made for canning jars are also now available and would work well for flavored vinegars.
Herbs: Allow three to four sprigs per pint (2 cups) of vinegar. Use very fresh herbs, picked before blossoming, for best flavor. It is best to pick fresh herbs soon after the morning dew has dried. Use only the best leaves or stems, discarding discolored, nibbled, crushed or dried-out pieces. Wash the fresh herbs gently but thoroughly. Blot dry on clean paper towels.
After herbs are washed and dried, dip them in a sanitizing bleach solution of 1 teaspoon of house-hold chlorine bleach in 6 cups of water. Rinse thoroughly under cold water and pat dry with clean paper towels.
Dried herbs may be substituted if necessary; allow 3 tablespoons dried herbs per pint of vinegar.
Fruits, Vegetables & Spices: Favorite fruits for flavoring vinegars are usually raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, peaches, pears, and the peel of lemons and oranges. Sometimes they are combined with herbs or spices such as mint or cinnamon. Other popular flavorings include peeled garlic cloves, jalapeno or other peppers, green onions, peppercorns, or mustard seed.
Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with clean water; peel if necessary before use. Small fruits and vegetables may be left whole or halved. Larger ones, such as peaches, may need to be sliced or cubed. Allow 1 to 2 cups of fruit per pint of vinegar, or the peel of one orange or lemon per pint of vinegar. Garlic cloves, peppers and chunks of firm fruit may be threaded on clean, thin bamboo skewers for easy insertion and removal.
Vinegar: Several types of vinegar may be used, but not all give the same results.
A Note About Checking Flavors: It takes at least 10 days for most flavors to develop and about three to four weeks for the greatest flavor to be extracted. However, desired flavors are a matter of personal taste. First crushing, ‘bruising" or chopping fruits, herbs and vegetables can shorten the flavoring process by about a week or so. To test for flavor, place a few drops of the vinegar on plain white bread and taste. If the flavor has developed to a pleasing point, strain the vinegar and continue as above. If flavors seem too strong after the standing time and straining, dilute the flavored vinegar with more of the base vinegar.
These vinegars are often displayed on sunny window sills and shelves as decorative room additions. If stored in this manner for more than a few weeks, these bottles should be considered as permanent decorations and not used in food preparation.
Flavored vinegars can be used to add zest and interesting flavors in any recipe that calls for plain vinegar. Use your flavored vinegars to add to:
Herbal-Mix Vinegar: For each pint of distilled white or wine vinegar, make a bouquet from three sprigs each of fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme. Lightly crush and place in jars.
Fresh Tarragon Vinegar: For each pint jar of distilled white or white wine vinegar to be flavored, use three 3-inch springs of fresh tarragon or 1 cup of fresh tarragon leaves and stems. Lightly crush before placing in jars. Variation: Also add ⅓ cup minced fresh chives to each pint of vinegar.
Lemon-Dill-Peppercorn Vinegar: For each pint jar of distilled white vinegar to be flavored, use the spiral peel (colored part only) of 1 lemon, 4 sprigs of fresh dill and ½ teaspoon whole black pepper-corns. This is especially good in marinades for fresh seafood or salad dressings. Variation: Use ¼ cup chopped fresh mint instead of dill and peppercorns to add a mint flavor to fresh fruit.
Spicy Parsley Vinegar: For each pint jar of distilled white vinegar to be flavored, use three to four sprigs of fresh parsley, ½ teaspoon whole mustard seeds and ½ teaspoon whole allspice.
Raspberry Vinegar: Wash 2 cups fresh raspberries gently but thoroughly. Bruise slightly with the back of a spoon or by rolling gently in waxed paper. Place in a sterilized quart glass canning jar. Heat 3 cups of vinegar to just below the boiling point and pour over the raspberries. Cap tightly and allow to stand two to three weeks in a cool, dark place. Strain vinegar through damp cheesecloth and discard fruit. Pour vinegar into clean, sterilized glass jars or bottles. Seal tightly. Store in the refrigerator for best quality and flavor. This is especially good in dressings for mixed greens or fruit.
Reynolds, Susan and Paulette Williams. So Easy to Preserve, Bulletin 989. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Fourth edition revised by Elizabeth Andress and Judy Harrison (1999).
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.