If you harvest your own fruit--any kind of fruit--you know how many leftover skins, seeds, pits, cooked stuff, raw stuff, and all kinds of other things are leftover from processing. So much scrap, from so much good fruit. If you're anything like me, you may have wondered if there's anything you can do with it. There is: fruit scrap vinegar.
I first started messing around with fruit scraps in nice restaurants I worked in where we would have all kinds of amazing fruit come in. After the processing, sometimes there would be things leftover, pits, skins, seeds--things I knew had really delicious solutes still hanging out in them, but I didn't know what to do with.
The first thing I started doing was infusing vinegar with spent grape pits and seeds--and it was shocking. The flavor was concentrated, pure, delicious. If you want to know more about that, see my post on fruit-infused vinegar here--it's a great way to use fruit, especially berries.
This though, this is the older, more mature cousin to the infusion recipe. This is a straight-up, naturally fermented vinegar made from skins, seeds, pits, pulp, and just about anything else you can throw at it. I've made it with frozen fruit, dried, rehydrated fruit, fruit juice, skins--all kinds of stuff.
The Secret: Adding Live Vinegar and Grain Alcohol
The basic recipe is a hybrid of two of my favorites: one from the Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and the other by Rene Redzepi in the Noma Guide to Fermentation. The Sandor Katz recipe is the most basic, and it's a great introduction--you just take fruit and sugar water, and let it ferment--it takes a long time, but it works.
Rene's recipe hastens the fermentation process by adding live vinegar, along with some grain alcohol to increase ABV, ensuring an acidic result, as if there isn't enough sugar in the beginning product, you won't have the amount of alcohol you need to get a good tart, tangy vinegar.
That being said, I made the recipe for years before I started adding a bit of vodka to it, so know that it's optional, and if you don't have any, it'll still work just fine.
What kind of fruit makes the best vinegar?
Berries. Well, berries, grapes and plums, at least from my experience. Typically I look for the deepest, darkest fruit I can find, but you can make it with other things, too--the sky is really the limit: pineapples, mango skins with bits of flesh attached--whatever.
I will say that there's something about a dark fruit vinegar I love though, so generally I use grapes, plums, or other dark colored berries. At the end of the day, you're the scientist, so use whatever fruit you want and make a fun blend. Here's some of my favorites.
These make a brilliant red vinegar. For these I always use the scraps leftover from making a cold juice extraction.
Like red wine vinegar, a beautiful nearly purple color, this will taste similarly strong and aggressive, but it's made by your own two hands! Use the scraps leftover from making juice.
Wild blueberries make a deep blue vinegar, and will have a flavor comparable to wild grape, with a very subtle blueberry note.
Fresh cooked, or frozen fruit will all work fine
Can you use cooked or frozen fruit to make homemade vinegar? Absolutely! Since the vinegar is "backslopped" with living vinegar, there is no need to worry about the success of fermentation if your fruit has been cooked or frozen, which can kill some of the living bacteria on it.
Dealing with fruit flies
Since I've posted this, I've gotten a lot of questions regarding the flies.
Know that typically I start my vinegars in the cold months when flies are dormant, using fruit scrap, or frozen fruits because the flies are less of an issue, but if you're starting this with fresh fruit during the growing season, you may have to trouble shoot some things. Depending on your location, temperature, and conditions, fruit flies can be a small or large headache. Here's some tips.
- Freeze your fruit and start the vinegar in the winter.
- Secure the cheesecloth or lid as securely and tightly as possible. Use more layers of cloth than you think you need. A single layer of cheesecloth is too porous to prevent flies from getting into the vinegar in process, so you can really go nuts on it, provided it can still be tightly fitted around the neck of the vessel.
- If, after two weeks or so you notice fruit flies, strain the solids out trough the finest mesh or cheesecloth you have, then wash the container, pour the liquid back in, cover and continue the fermentation process.
- Start and keep your vinegar outside to avoid having the flies in areas you frequent.
- We are conditioned to think that insects are problematic and potentially dangerous as they can harbor bacteria, but, in the case of vinegar, a fly or two in the liquid can actually help ensure a strong fermentation process as they are covered in natural yeasts. As the pH of the liquid continually decreases, the flies will die when immersed in the liquid.
- While aesthetically unappealing, fruit flies will in no way harm the vinegar or make it unsafe to consume.
Vinegar powder is a chef secret and a really interesting way to apply acid to dishes where you may not want additional liquid. To make a small amount to try, put your vinegar mother on a non-stick sheet such as a silpat/silicone mat, and dehydrate at 150 F until crisp, then store in a jar and powder when you're ready to use it. Scoby mothers can be used similarly.
Since some of you have been whining about the recipe seemingly complicated, I added a simple, classic fruit scrap vinegar to live alongside the accelerated one. Pick a method you like, and enjoy your new pet!
Fruit Scrap Vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 lb fruit scrap from juicing, etc skins, seeds, etc
- 2 Tablespoons living vinegar such as apple cider, or vinegar from a previous batch
- 2 qts water
- Mix all ingredients and put into a container, such as a plastic food tub, gallon water jug, bucket, etc.
- Cover the lid with cheesecloth, secure with twine or a rubber band, and leave out at room temperature.
- After 1 month, strain out the solids, then pour the mixture into a half-gallon mason jar. Cover with cheesecloth and continue fermenting for another month or so, until the vinegar is good and strong. When it tastes sour like regular vinegar to you, screw a lid on the jar and store. If you forget to strain the solids out after one month, don't worry! It will turn out just fine and will have no effect on the success of the vinegar provided the vinegar is still allowed to respire and has access to air.
- During the process, if you get fruit flies, which are annoying, but will in no way harm the finished product, refer to my trouble shooting tips in this post.
Accelerated Fruit Scrap Vinegar with Alcohol
- 750 grams 3 ¼ cups water
- 172 grams ¾ cup plus 1 Tablespoon previous fruit vinegar, or apple cider vinegar with live cultures
- 184 grams ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons 80 proof vodka
- 1 lb 2 packed cups fruit scrap from cooking, juicing, etc
- 50 grams ¼ cup sugar
- Combine all ingredients in a 2 quart sized container, cover with cheesecloth, and allow to ferment for 2 weeks at room temperature, stirring as often as you can remember (I use a wooden spoon).
- After two weeks, strain the vinegar and allow to continue fermenting, still covered with cloth, until you like the flavor, a month or two.
- When you're pleased with the flavor, and you can't taste any sweetness in the vinegar anymore, put it into jars and seal, then store in a cool dark place.