Herbal vinegars are easy to make and versatile. Use them in the kitchen in everything from dressings to desserts, as well as outside the kitchen for toiletries and cleaning. They make elegant gifts, too! Here's all you need to know.
Note: Don't use any metal utensils when preparing your herb vinegar. If your lid is metal, use waxed paper under it to prevent rusting when exposed to the vinegar.
Any vinegar that has at least 5 percent acidity is suitable, although you'll want to choose one with a taste that you already like and that's compatible with your herbs and purpose. (You don't want the vinegar to overpower your herbs and spices for culinary use, for example.) Just some of the possibilities:
- Champagne vinegar, made from dry white wine, is mild and good for use with delicately flavored herbs.
- Cider vinegar, made from apple cider, is a good match for strongly flavored herbs and spices.
- Distilled white vinegar, made from grain, can be used for making herbal vinegars, but it's very sharp and so not usually preferred for culinary herb vinegars.
- Malt vinegar, made from grains, is very hearty (usually used for pickling or mustard making, for example).
- Rice vinegar, made from rice wine, is sweet and mild, also good for delicate herbs and spices. It comes in white, red, and black varieties.
- Sherry vinegar is made from sherry wines; it's aromatic and perfect for dressings.
- Wine vinegar, made from white, red, and rose wines, will vary depending on the wine used. White wines will tend to be more delicate while red will be more robust, for example. A typical rose might fall someplace in between the two.
Herbs & Spices
You can use fresh herbs (gently rinse and pat them dry after harvesting, preferably first thing in the morning) or dried herbs and spices for your vinegars.
When using dried herbs and spices, avoid powders, as these will cloud the vinegar. Use marjoram leaf rather than ground marjoram, for example, and whole cloves rather than clove powder. Good whole spices for vinegars include allspice, bay leaves, cloves, coriander seed, cumin seed, juniper berries, mustard seed, and peppercorns.
Use about 1/2 cup of dried leaves (or one cup of fresh) for every 2 cups of vinegar. If you're converting a recipe from fresh herbs to dried, simply substitute half as much dried as fresh. When in doubt, add more -- you can always dilute your vinegar in the end if it's too strong.
Experiment with flavors! Here are some suggested combinations for inspiration:
- Tarragon and garlic (whole cloves) in white wine vinegar
- Dill weed and dried red peppers in red wine vinegar
- Lemon balm, lemongrass, and lemon verbena in champagne vinegar
- Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in sherry vinegar
- Fennel and thyme in rice vinegar
- Lavender in cider vinegar
- Chives and mustard seeds in malt vinegar
For non-culinary herbal vinegars, choose herbs that are compatible with your purpose: mints, rose petals, and rosemary for baths; nettle, and rosemary for hair rinses; and calendula petals, and chamomile flowers for skin tonics. For herbal vinegar cleansers, use mints, lavender, thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena and lemongrass. (You might also add a couple drops of citrus essential oils to boost your cleansers.)
By the way, you can also add fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, pears, apples, and pineapple to your vinegars. Start with a cup or two of fruit for each pint of vinegar.
There are many methods of making herbal vinegars. Some require heating the vinegar first, while others caution against it, suggesting that the heat weakens the acidity of the vinegar and promotes cloudiness. Some suggest steeping the herbs in the vinegar for 24 hours, and others recommend a month. Here's a simple and effective method that you can adapt to suit your own preferences:
- Add your herbs (and spices/fruits, if using) to your jar or bottle.
- Cover the herbs with room-temperature vinegar.
- Place the lid on the jar and store in a cool, dark place. Occasionally gently shake the jar (every couple of days or so).
- Check the vinegar, by tasting, after one week. Continue to store until it's at the strength you desire.
- Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth or muslin into another clean jar or bottle.
- Cap the jar or seal it with cork and wax.
- Label the jar.
If giving as a gift, you might tie a ribbon or piece of fabric around the neck of the bottle. A fancy label would also be fun. If you have a sprig of fresh herb (a piece of dill weed or lavender, for example) or a spice (a cinnamon stick, for example), you can tie it on with the ribbon. You can also add a sprig of fresh herb to your finished vinegar, after straining into the clean bottle, for added visual interest.
Some suggest refrigerating herbal vinegars and using them within a couple of weeks, for maximum safety, but others recommend simply keeping them in a cool, dry storage area for up to a year. Again, experiment!
Use herbal vinegars any place that you would use any vinegar, including in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, sushi, or pies. Add a splash to chili or bean soups, use it in your pickling, and pour over meats before roasting. Add it to barbecue sauces, sandwich spreads, and condiment recipes. Use herbal vinegar to make sea salt and vinegar chips, and substitute it for lemon or lime juice, and, of course, plain vinegar in any recipe.
Again, there are non-food uses for herbal vinegars, too, including hair rinses, skin toners and cleansers, bath additives and foot soaks. Herbal vinegars are also used to make compresses and for cleansers. You can even add fresh herbal vinegar to your washload to freshen it. (Lavender would be a good choice here!)
Once you see how easy and fun it is to make your own special herbal vinegars, you're likely to want to use nothing but.