It is intriguing to think that in today’s computerized, sophisticated world, we’re still using one product that was discovered – quite by chance – more than 10,000 years ago.
Vinegar. Simplicity itself (though its manufacture today is anything but). The French said it succinctly: vin aigre – meaning sour wine. That is its origin, the discovery that a cask of wine gone past its time had turned to a wonderful new product. Through the centuries vinegar has been produced from many other materials, including molasses, dates, sorghum, fruits, berries, melons, coconut, honey, beer, maple syrup, potatoes, beets, malt, grains and whey. But the principle remains unchanged – fermentation of natural sugars to alcohol and then secondary fermentation to vinegar. You might say wine is to grapes what vinegar is to wine.
The ancients were quick to find the remarkable versatility of vinegar. Around 5,000 BC, the Babylonians used it as a preservative and as a condiment, and it was they who began flavoring it with herbs and spices. Roman legionnaires used it as a beverage. Cleopatra demonstrated its solvent property by dissolving precious pearls in it to win a wager that she could consume a fortune in a single meal. Hippocrates extolled its medicinal qualities and, indeed, it was probably one of our earliest remedies. The Greeks also reportedly made pickled vegetables or meats using vinegar. Biblical references show how it was much used for its soothing and healing properties. And when Hannibal, a great general, crossed the Alps with an army riding elephants, it was vinegar that helped pave the way. Obstructive boulders were heated and doused with vinegar, which cracked and crumbled the barriers. By about 3000 BC, the making of homemade vinegar was being phased out and, in 2000 BC, vinegar production was largely a commercial industry. During the American Civil War, vinegar was used to treat scurvy, and as recently as World War I, it was being used to treat wounds. To learn about today’s vinegar, please click here.