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Vinegar is a versatile flavor and safety enhancer

September 16, 1997|By Lynn F. Little

Vinegar adds zip to salads, sauces, soups, pasta, chicken or fish without adding an ounce of fat. It can be used as a versatile seasoning and preservative.

Vinegar is highly acidic and serves as a natural preservative when combined with other foods. For example, adding vinegar or vinegar-containing ingredients like mayonnaise or pickles to salads helps inhibit growth of bacteria.

Vinegar is also an excellent meat tenderizer. It adds flavor to meat juices, softens tough meat fibers and helps keep bacteria growth in check during the process.

For the calorie conscious, vinegar's main virtue is that it contains no fat or sodium and only 2 calories per tablespoon. This makes it one of the best condiments to choose for adding tang and zest to foods without adding to your waistline.

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There also seems to be no shortage of testimonials to the healthful gains from regular doses of vinegar. Its medicinal value for a variety of "what ails you" has been noted throughout history. The remedies are unproven. Reputable vinegar manufacturers confess that these health claims would require extensive technical research and case studies to substantiate.

Vinegars can be made from any fruit or from any material containing sugar.

They come in a variety of color tones - from the near whites of distilled vinegar to the red shades of wine vinegar and all ranges of brown, from apple cider to malt vinegars.

The basic color of the vinegar comes from the raw ingredients used. Read the labels carefully and make your selection of vinegar according to the flavor influences that appeal to you the most.

The following recognized varieties of vinegar are classified according to the material from which they are made and the method of manufacturing. Labels on vinegar will describe the starting materials.

Cider vinegar, sometimes called apple vinegar, is made from fermented apple juice. It has a clear, brownish-yellow color, fruity odor and a mellow taste. Although often used for pickling, it is an all-purpose vinegar and is used in salads, on meats and fish, and as a cooking ingredient.

Distilled white vinegar, made by distilling fermented liquids, is most often used for pickling and home canning. It is colorless and safeguards the brilliant colors of fruits and vegetables. It has a mellow, almost delicate aroma that brings out the full flavors of foods without dominating them. This is especially important when pickling or canning light-colored fruits and vegetables.

Malt vinegar is generally made from barley. It has a clear, dark amber color and a malt flavor. It is primarily used in preparing seafood dishes, fish and meat sauces, and salad dressings.

Wine vinegar is made from either red or white wine. Both varieties have a tangy but mild flavor. Wine vinegar is popular in salad dressings and sauces. Garlic wine vinegar is a red or white wine vinegar that contains pieces of garlic. It is used to flavor hamburgers, stews, salads and sauces.

Not only is vinegar a great seasoning for fish and chicken, french fries and vegetables, it has a number of uses in recipes.

To rescue a recipe that tastes too sweet or too salty after you've mixed the ingredients, try adding a dash of white vinegar. It may save the recipe.

To revive vegetables that look a little tired and wilted, soak them in one quart of cold water and one tablespoon of white vinegar.

Temperatures may rise in the summer time, but your molded salads and desserts will stand up to the heat if you add a teaspoon of white vinegar per box of gelatin to your favorite gelatin recipes.

You can enhance the flavor of your favorite grilled fish dishes by adding a dash of white vinegar. For firmer, whiter fish, soak your favorite fillet or seafood steak for 20 minutes in one quart of water and two tablespoons of vinegar.

When a recipe calls for buttermilk and you don't have any on hand, just add a tablespoon of white vinegar to one cup of milk. Let it stand five minutes to thicken, and you've created a substitute.

For fluffier, great-tasting rice, just add a teaspoon of white vinegar to the boiling water. Your rice will be easier to spoon out and less sticky.

A mixture of one-half cup of white, cider or wine vinegar added to a cup of liquid bouillon makes a great marinade base.

The all-natural goodness of vinegar makes a great-tasting difference in your cooking. It is a versatile ingredient that will enhance your favorite recipes and create a little flavor magic where you least expect it.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator, family and consumer sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Maryland.

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