A pillar of quintessential human ingenuity. Vinegar is fascinating for how it’s made and its uses in pickling. It has many astounding purposes. Outside of pickling, it will completely dissolve the calcium encrusted on glassware and faucets within minutes, clean your counters, kill your weeds, and spice up your salad. In pickle brine, we all know it acts as a preservative. Thanks, vinegar, for killing bacteria that would have otherwise turned our cucumbers into fermented pickles. Sense the irony?
When setting out to make vinegar, manufacturers don’t just sit down and put chemicals together. Nope, they rely on bacteria. Yes, you read that right. Bacteria make vinegar by breaking down sugars in fruits and vegetables. That vinegar is then used to kill bacteria in the hopes that we might be able to preserve our food. That’s the irony. And it works! Something we could do with a strong salt brine, can easily happen overnight.
Of course, if salt is scarce, and you have an abundance of sugar in the form of fruits and veggies, then vinegar is your best bet. During times where salt was too expensive or rare to use in preserving, vinegar was cheap and abundant. Remember that people have killed over salt, so vinegar must have been a peaceful solution. Fermenting pickles actually takes a lot more salt in the brine to create the right environment for killing bad bacteria and cultivating Lactose basillus. Vinegar works with less salt and does its job faster, with the help of heat, by an order of days rather than weeks. A quick word of warning, not all vinegar is created equal, so try different varieties before you make that batch of dills.
If you like history, you may enjoy this timeline of pickles history!