Herb vinegars, from left: rosemary in red wine vinegar; lemon thyme in white vinegar; Mexican tarragon in white wine vinegar
Vinegar has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and culinary purposes. Modern home use ranges from household cleaning to a host of recipes, from salad dressing to vinegar pie. The popularity of specialty vinegars is soaring. Once considered unusual ingredients, balsamic, malt, raspberry, red, white and rice wine vinegars have become commonplace. You can buy flavored vinegars in regular and gourmet food stores, but they're simple and inexpensive to make at home. The process of making flavored vinegars is a type of infusion, similar to making a cup of tea. Recipes use a variety of herbs and fruit, fruit-and-spice combinations, herb combinations and different types of vinegar bases.
Easy Herb Vinegar
Sterilize the containers. Ensure the containers have tight-fitting lids or corks, and no cracks or chips. Machine or hand wash thoroughly. Place containers in a large pot of water; bring to a boil and simmer for about 9 minutes.
Gently pour off water, and remove the containers from the pot. Turn the containers upside down on paper towels to drain and dry.
Clean the herbs. Remove any dead or wilted leaves, and rinse the herbs. Stir 1 teaspoon of bleach into 6 cups water. Add herbs, stir and remove. Rinse herbs thoroughly in cool water. Although vinegar has a high acid content, wine vinegars contain proteins and can develop bacteria; the diluted bleach wash is for safety's sake.
Heat vinegar to a simmer. Place the herbs in the containers, and pour in the hot vinegar. Seal tightly and let stand. When the containers have cooled to room temperature, place in the refrigerator or store in a cool area away from direct sunlight.
Infuse three to four weeks. Store in your refrigerator for up to six months.
Strain the vinegar when ready to use, and discard the herbs. Use in vinaigrette, vegetable salads and marinades.