Learn how to make fruit vinegar at home with one simple ingredient, a Mason jar, and a bit of time!
My guest today, Autumn Rose, lives with her husband on a tiny farmstead in the mountains of southern British Columbia in Canada. She's a full-time homemaker, whole food cook, avid gardener, food preserver, and lover of farmyard creatures! My kinda person! In her early adult years, she was leading a typical modern lifestyle until she got sick. After being diagnoses with advanced Lyme disease she began searching for ways to strengthen her health after she reached a point where the doctors told her they couldn't help her anymore.
That's what launched her into the back to the basics movement where she started experimenting with different foods and learning about nutrition. This is when she came to the realization that vine to table, raising your own food was actually the healthiest way to go. She got into preserving that food and built momentum from there. She keeps a natural home now making her own body care products and household cleaners. Essentially she embraced whatever gave her positive results.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #262 How to Make Fruit Vinegar at Home with 1 Ingredient, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
Our paths are so similar. Even though I didn't have Lyme disease, I found the same thing when I experienced health issues (read my story for more details). I started with the food and when I saw the change it made in my health I started looking at all these other things too.
Melissa: It's been 10 years and I'm still learning and implementing so much. The more I learn the more I realize the more I don't know and that there are more skills that I want to learn and conquer. It's a continuous rabbit hole. I don't think I'll ever reach that point that I have it all down. Do you feel the same way?
Autumn: Always. It's different seasons of life. I find that I focus on different things more and then we move into a new season and then I want to how to do this new thing. So yeah, definitely.
Melissa: I don't know about you, but in my family (either side of our family) there are very little people who do this to the level that my husband and I do. So I find it fun to actually get to talk with other people who get the journey. Which is one reason why I enjoy doing the podcast where I get to talk with like-minded individuals. The topic of discussion today is that of fruit vinegar. What exactly is fruit vinegar and how does that differ from the two types of vinegar that most of us are familiar with, white vinegar and apple cider vinegar?
What is Fruit Vinegar?
Autumn: Basically traditionally housewives would take fruit juice and let it ferment in their kitchen on the back of their counter. The juice goes through two fermenting phases. When it's done you have a fermented vinegar product with antioxidants and minerals, acetic acid, and good bacteria. It's a really healthy product and if you're keeping a natural home it's a great thing to keep around. The process is really, really simple. It's essentially fermented fruit juice.
Melissa: So it is a ferment. White vinegar and apple cider vinegar, unless you get the kind with the mother, they're not in a live culture state by the time we get them. So this is a true ferment wit the live cultures that are in it, which we know can be really good for us. It's made from the fruit juice, not with the whole pieces of fruit, correct?
Autumn: Yeah. You can use whole pieces of fruit. There are different extracting methods you can use but your goal is to get it down to just pure fruit juice and let nature take its course from there.
Melissa: So we don't actually need a starter like when doing kombucha you start with a SCOBY. I'm assuming fruit vinegar is similar to a sourdough starter, except we're not focusing on yeast rather the live cultures and good bacteria that we need to create vinegar. So that's already present within the fruit juice?
Autumn: Yeah, it's within the fruit juice. It also just naturally exists within the air in your home. Your fruit juice is going to capture natural yeasts as well as bacteria. There are two fermenting phases…it just happens naturally on its own. You don't have to introduce anything to it. Pure juice will do its magic. You just let it sit there and do its thing.
Melissa: Walk me through the fermenting process. Is there a specific volume? Does it need to breathe? How do you keep fruit flies out? That's one that when I'm making apple cider vinegar I'm cautious of keeping the fruit flies out.
Autumn: The first thing you need to do is extract the juice from your fruit. Whether it's berries, stone fruits, apples, pears, those types of things, there are three extracting methods you can use.
The first is one in which a lot of people are familiar. Where I grew up, in the fall neighbors would have apple cider pressing parties. Everybody would come in and they had a press. It's just cold, fresh juice is extracted from the fruit.
Cold press is great for keeping your juice in a completely raw form with all of the antioxidants and vitamins. It's a great way to make a really rich vinegar.
Fruits to Cold Press
A steam juicer is similar to the way women traditionally make homemade jellies. They'd put the fruit in a pot and add a little bit of water, then cook it for a bit and then strain the juice through a jelly bag. It's great for drier fruits:
Fruits to Steam Juice
Water extraction is the last method. It's one of my favorite methods.
- Fill a jar about two-thirds full with fruit, and then cover it with chlorine-free water. Chlorine can inhibit the strength of your ferment.
- Let sit and infuse for about three to seven days.
- Strain out the infused liquid.
- Fill another jar with more fruit, and then use the infused to cover that fruit. This will strengthen your ferment since you're diluting it with water initially.
You can do a couple of infusions.
How to Make Homemade Fruit Vinegar
- Once you have your juice, pour it into a food-grade container. I prefer using my glass canning jars: anywhere from a quart to a gallon. I even have a five-gallon crock that I make our apple cider vinegar.
- Cover the container with a breathable cloth. We do this for two reasons: First, as your juice ferments, it's going to release carbon dioxide. If it were sealed pressure will build up and explode your container. The other reason is to keep out the fruit flies. You want to make sure to seal them up well so that they can't get in.
- Temperature is really important for fermenting. You need to keep your juice at temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 16 to 27 Celsius. As long as you keep it within those temperatures, the natural yeast, which is found on the skin of your fruit as well as airborne in your home, will come in and start consuming the natural sugars. They start converting the sugars to alcohol.
It takes anywhere from three to six weeks for a half-gallon jar of juice, depending on the sugar content. You're going to see bubbles on the sides of your container during this time. It's similar to the first stage of brewing kombucha. If you can do kombucha you can do fruit vinegar.
It'll go through the alcohol phase. Once that's dying back, there is a group of bacteria that are going to come in. Acetobactor bacteria are a natural airborne bacteria that take the alcohol and transform that into acetic acid, which is your vinegar product.
It will take about three to six times longer than the first phase of fermentation for you to fully finish working and transforming all the alcohol to acetic acid. But when it's done, you're done. It's really as simple as that.
Don't Expect It To Happen Overnight
Melissa: I've been doing apple scrap vinegar for six or seven years and never realized that I was using a cold infusion. I think in our modern society, even for those of us homesteading, we tend to forget how long things take. We're very much spoiled that we get things right away. I'll get questions from people who are just learning to make apple cider vinegar. Often times they'll say it's been eight weeks and it still smells like alcohol, what's wrong with it? It just hasn't had enough time. I've had batches that have taken almost six months before I felt it was a good, strong vinegar.
When I do my ACV, I only do the one infusion so it probably has lower sugar content. Maybe that's why it took longer? Do you notice that the higher the sugar content in the juice the it takes longer to turn in vinegar?
Autumn: That's interesting. Actually apples tend to be one of the higher sugar content fruits. Generally, I find that the more sugar there is in it the longer it takes. The more sugar there is to consume, then there's more alcohol for the acetic acid bacteria to work with. So I actually find it takes longer.
Now, I have a question for you Melissa. With your ACV, once you've strained the apple scraps out, do you put a lid on your container or do you use a breathable cover?
Melissa: At that point, I usually put a lid on it. I don't tighten it down all the way but it's not cloth.
Autumn: That's why it takes yours longer then.
Melissa: So keep the cloth on it until it's reached the full vinegar stage in that second ferment.
Autumn: Yeah. The airflow is what's bring your acetic acid bacteria in. So if you're limiting that you're really diminishing how many can be in there and actively working. By putting the lid on it slows things way down.
Melissa: Ah ha. So I've been lidding it too quickly.
Troubleshooting your homemade vinegar
Melissa: I've not had it happen to me so I'm never certain exactly the best help to give those asking why they're having mold or kahm yeast issues. Is either of those things you've experienced and do you have any troubleshooting tips to help?
Autumn: There are a lot of variables with mold.
- Anything floating on the surface of your liquid. That's like a perfect landing pad for mold spores.
- Make sure you strain things out at the proper time. Don't keep them in longer.
- Often if people have a lot of mold issues in their home, it will often show up on the surface of the ferment. So I tell people to make sure you have your fermenting vinegar in an area with really good airflow. Don't stuff it in the back of your pantry. Don't stuff it at the back of a cupboard. Leave it out on the kitchen counter where it has good airflow coming past it because it's way less likely to mold.
If you get kahm yeast, or often with vinegar – I don't even know its proper term, but if you have warmer temperatures and high sugar content in the fruit juice you're fermenting, you will often get almost a half-inch of bubbly scum. Just skim that off. If it appears take it away as soon as it does and you shouldn't have issues with mold.
So anytime you see stuff developing on the surface of your liquid, especially in the first stage of fermentation in the alcohol phase, just be faithful to skim it off. If you do this you really shouldn't have issues.
Storing Your Vinegar
Melissa: What are the steps of finishing off our vinegar and then storing it? What is our best storage practices?
Autumn: In a food-grade container of course. Because vinegar is acidic so make sure whatever you have it in it's safe. I actually like to store my vinegar in old whiskey jugs and old wine bottles that I found at a garage sale. They look so cool sitting on the shelf.
Test before storing
If I'm pretty sure my vinegar is done, that it's moved through all the phases, I'll take about a cup of the vinegar and will seal it up in a wine bottle, cork it and put it at the back of my kitchen counter for a day. Then I'll break the seal. If there was a release of carbon dioxide then it's not ready to be sealed up yet.
You don't want pressure building up in your containers. That can be really messy when the corks blow and spew all over. I won't tell you how many accidents I've had, but just keep testing it. If you release that cork after a day and there's no carbon dioxide coming off, seal it back up and put it back on your counter again. And let it sit for three to four days. If there still is no release, then you're good. You can bottle it up and stash it away. Then it's ready to be used how, when, and where you wish.
How to store homemade fruit vinegar long-term
Melissa: I'm assuming for best long-term storage you wouldn't want it in extreme heat or direct light.
Autumn: Ideally vinegar can be in a warm environment, but the warmer it is the faster the acetic acid is going to mellow out. I like to keep mine in my cold room and it's so good. When I did a massive batch of apple cider vinegar I've had it last for two years.
Uses for fruit vinegar
Melissa: What're your favorite ways to use your fruit vinegar?
Autumn: There are so many things. When I first started, I actually wasn't really thinking about anything other than we were trying to cut back on the cost of our grocery budget because we had just moved 1200 kilometers down through the province we were living and we were trying to save money because we really wanted to buy land and get in the countryside. So I was going through our grocery list and trying to determine what I could DIY. Lemons were one of the things I was using a lot in all our homemade condiments, salad dressings, dips. My thinking was that I bet if I learned to make vinegar, I could substitute it in all of our condiments. So that's actually what got me into doing it. I make numerous types of dressings, dips, condiments with it.
It's also an excellent meat tenderizer. If you marinade your meat in it, it gives it a really interesting yummy flavor. In baking, it's excellent for helping cut back on phytic acid, even in your fermented recipes it really helps make your food more digestible with any baking or grain-based product. Just add a tablespoon or two of apple vinegar.
I love to have what I call my gardening drink. It sounds silly but honestly, after a hot day working out in the garden and I'm sweating and fatigued, I will come in and make this drink in a pint jar.
1 part fruit vinegar
3 or 4 parts of water
A little bit of Maple Syrup to sweeten
I'll just sit there for five minutes sipping it and then I'm ready to go again. It's the best gardeners pick me up on the planet. I gave some to my husband and he was amazed too.
I also use fruit vinegar in home remedies. It's excellent for home remedies, whether it's fire cider or you an infuse herbs in vinegar that's safe to do without issues of botulism. My favorite is actually to make elderberry vinegar with fresh elderberries, that's one of the best home remedies on the planet.
Equipment needed to make fruit vinegar
Melissa: One of the things that I love about the vinegar is that you don't have to have really any special equipment. And most of the work is done for you. I mean, it's the bacteria and yeast doing the work, you're just giving it the right conditions and keeping an eye on things. But there's not really a ton of hands-on work.
Then storage wise, as you shared, it doesn't have to be stored in the fridge like you have to do with other ferments. I love that this is a very low cost so really no cost barrier or huge equipment needed. Most of us have glass jars on some type in our homes. Also, it can be stored on the shelf for years if you need it. But probably now that we know all of the awesome ways to use it, we'll probably go through it faster.
Can store-bought juice be used for homemade vinegar
For those who might not have their own fruit sources, can you use store-bought fruit juice?
Autumn: Yes, as long as it's pure juice and there's no preservatives and stabilizers. You can use store-bought juice, even if it's been pasteurized, but you want to be careful about any additives. It just has to be your pure, basic fruit juice.
Melissa: I thought for sure you were going to say not if it's been pasteurized. Good to know that you can used it even if it's been pasteurized.
Autumn: Yeah. When I was researching I discovered that traditionally housewives would make their own white vinegar from just sugar and water. To introduce natural yeast they would throw a handful of raisins in and that's how they made their household vinegar. So you just need the liquid and sugar and the rest will happen.
Melissa: Of all the fruit vinegar that you have made, do you have one that is your absolute favorite?
Autumn: That is a hard question…I would probably say plum is one of my favorites. I love deep, rich, bold flavors and plum vinegar is just incredible. One of my favorite salad dressing is made with plum vinegar with basil and it is so good. I think the blue elderberry vinegar would be my other favorite just because it's such good immune support.
Where to find Autumn
How to Make Fruit Vinegar
- Glass jar
- 4 cups fruit juice of choice
- Stage OnePour fruit juice into a glass container (quart sized Mason jar up to a gallon).
- Cover the container with a breathable cloth.
- Keep your juice at temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 16 to 27 Celsius for three to six weeks You should see bubbles on the side of the jar during this time.
- Stage TwoYour juice is close to going through the alcohol phase. Once that's dying back, there is a group of bacteria that come in called Acetobactor bacteria. They take the alcohol and transform that into acetic acid, which is your vinegar product.It will take about three to six times longer than the first phase of fermentation for you to fully finish working and transforming all the alcohol to acetic acid and to have fully formed homemade vinegar.