EUGENE – Home-made herb or fruit-flavored vinegars are easy and fun to make and are welcomed gifts during the holiday season. Plus, they are great additions to winter salad dressings, sauces, meat dishes and cooked vegetables.
To produce herb vinegar, all you need is some fresh herbs from your garden or grocery store, clean glass jars and lids, vinegar, some containers to put the vinegar into when it is done and some nice labels for the jars, explained Nellie Oehler, family and community development faculty member with the Oregon State University Extension Service.
Fruit-flavored vinegars are made in a similar way, using frozen fruit such as raspberries, blue berries or cranberries. Frozen fruit works better than fresh fruit because the cells of frozen fruit are broken down and release their juice more readily.
"A great variety of herbs or fruits can be used to make flavored vinegars, either by themselves or in combinations," said Oehler. "Mint, basil, tarragon, dill, oregano and chives all are popular in herb vinegars. Use about three to four sprigs of fresh herbs or three tablespoons dried herbs for each pint of vinegar. The new leaves at the tip of an herb plant are usually the most flavorful. You can also add other flavorings along with the herbs such as berries, lemon peel or garlic."
Oehler recommends the following procedure for making herb vinegars:
Sterilize glass containers such as quart or gallon jars by boiling for 10 minutes. Sterilization inhibits microorganisms that cloud herb vinegars.
Insert the desired amount of herbs into a sterilized glass jar and fill the jar with the vinegar of choice.
Distilled white and apple cider vinegar are most affordable, but apple cider's amber color may not be as desirable for light colored herbs. White wine vinegar is more expensive, but has a very smooth flavor, she said.
Put a pint of vinegar in the jar per each three to four sprigs of fresh herbs. The vinegar may be added either hot or cold.
"Some people prefer to heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point and then pour the hot vinegar over the herbs," said Oehler. "Others like the flavor better when cold vinegar is added."
Loosely cap the jar. Plastic lids or corks make the best seals, as metal jar tops will rust. Store your herb vinegar in a cool, dark place for several weeks. After the desired flavor is reached, filter the vinegar and put it into sterilized smaller containers for gifts or use in your own kitchen. Add a sprig of fresh herb for appearance. Or leave the vinegar unfiltered. Citrus rind, garlic, peppers or peppercorns can also add unique flavors to herbal vinegars.
To make fruit-flavored vinegars, put frozen fruit in a non-reactive bowl and pour vinegar over the fruit. Let it set a couple of weeks to steep. Then filter it, through cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter.
Don't forget to label your vinegars with the type of base vinegar used – white, apple cider, red wine, white wine, rice wine – the flavoring ingredients and the date. Use the vinegar up within three to four months for best quality.
For more information on making herb vinegar, the OSU Extension Service Lane County Master Food Preservers offer an instruction sheet on-line available in PDF format titled, "Flavored Vinegars."