When I first heard about vinegar extractions, my first thought was “Yikes! That sound painful!”
Luckily, I didn't let that initial aversion to the idea stop me from figuring out exactly what that term meant and how to use it on my homestead.
It turns out the idea of vinegar extraction is just the gateway to a much longer list of great ways to use vinegar to support your health and add flavor to your next meal or get together.
Vinegar extraction is a term that means vinegar is used to extract specific flavors or nutrients from a wide variety of herbs and medicinal or edible plants. It's like a “tincture” which is an alcohol extraction. However, it's made by using vinegar instead of using alcohol.
Depending on your purpose for using a vinegar extraction, you may also call it by a different name like an infusion, a tonic, or fire cider. Although these terms represent the same primary activity – as in flavoring and upping the nutrition in vinegar – they are often applied in unique ways.
Let's explore the many different shades of vinegar extraction.
1. Vinegar Infusions
When using vinegar extractions to make tasty treats, like rosemary lemon balm flavored vinegar for salad dressing, the term “infusion” is often used. That's pretty understandable. I mean, an infusion is a lot more appealing than extraction, when you're talking about salad dressing!
So, if you are making fancy flavored vinegar to bottle for holiday presents, then calling it an infusion makes it sound a bit more ‘high-falutin' (and less like dental work!). The idea of infusion, as in “infused with flavor” adds a bit of mystique to an otherwise easy-to-do process.
2. Vinegar Tonics
Many people take raw, unpasteurized vinegar regularly for their probiotic cultures. Raw vinegar is purported to aid with digestion, balance the body's pH, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
When you use raw vinegar to make your extractions and then drink this on a daily basis, it becomes a tonic. Some tonics, such as those made with berries or lavender, make the flavor of raw vinegar more palatable for everyday use.
Other tonics have added potential health benefits. For example, raw vinegar is often used to extract the immunity boosting properties that come from garlic, ginger, and horseradish during the cold and flu season to help boost our bodies natural defenses. It can also be used to extract calcium and other minerals from herbs like rosemary or foraged foods like stinging nettle.
Now, I am not a doctor or a herbalist, so I can't vouch for the benefits of vinegar tonics. However, many people swear by them.
I also grew up taking two tablespoons of raw vinegar and a clove of garlic a day to promote good health. I can say with certainty that I was sick a lot less than other children in my classes. (I also ate vegetables and spent most of my free time outdoors, so those other factors might have contributed.)
3. Fire Ciders
Fire cider is another kind of vinegar extraction that is kind of like a cross between a tonic and an infusion. It is designed for health benefits, but also for the enjoyment factor. Similar to kombucha, people drink it for pleasure, not just for health.
Fire ciders are often made with similar ingredients to vinegar tonics. They can contain all sorts of pungent roots, spices, fruits, and more. However, they also usually have a sweetener in them.
Honey is often used in fire cider recipes because it has its own associated health benefits to bring to the infusion. However, other sources like beet sugar or evaporated cane sugar are also used to make this tangy, healthy beverage.
Truth be told, the term tonic and fire cider are often used interchangeably. So, there is often cross-over in the usage. Sometimes people say “Fire cider tonic.”
Personally, I think you can call your vinegar extractions whatever you want when you make them yourself. So pick the name that resonates most with you!
4. Vinegar Shrubs
Now, before we get into the steps of how to make these concoctions, there is one more kind of vinegar-based extraction you need to know. These are called ‘shrubs.'
Mixed Drink Shrubs
Shrubs can be made in two ways. The most common method is to take an existing vinegar extraction, dilute it with water, and sweeten it up with sugar, honey, syrup, or whatever source of sweetener you want to make your beverage.
Usually, you add 1 part vinegar to 1 part water and sweeten to your taste. However, we homesteading rebels can make it any way we want. I prefer 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water (or other liquid) to make this more palatable at parties.
Homemade Vinegar Shrubs
The alternative way of making a shrub is to use vinegar made from unique flavoring components and then mix that vinegar with sweetener and dilute it. For example, I use whey leftover when I make cheese to make vinegar. Then, I use that whey vinegar to make my shrub.
Sometimes I get crazy and use my whey vinegar to make an extraction and then mix that extraction with my shrub. For example, I'll use whey vinegar to extract the flavors from coconut or almond (or both). Then, I'll sweeten that mix with maple syrup and dilute with coconut water or sparkling water to make a creamy, tangy, hydrating drink that's unlike anything you've ever tasted before.
These pleasurable, medicinal mocktails, are starting to make a comeback in popularity. They are showing up as novelty beverages in cocktail lounges and farm-to-table type restaurants. I suspect someone is even bottling them and charging a fortune as they do for Kombucha.
You, however, don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy shrubs at home. Once you start making your own vinegar extractions (and maybe even your own vinegar), you can make these for almost no cost using things you grow or forage.
10 “Relaxing” Steps to Make a Simple Vinegar Extraction
Now, with our glossary of vinegar terms defined, and your mouth watering at the thought of sampling your first homemade vinegar shrub, let's get to work.
Step 1: Block Off Some Time in Your Schedule
First off, start a pot of coffee or put your tea water on to boil. Because this is about the time it will take you to start a simple herb vinegar extraction. Yep, that's it!
Oh, and don't bother to clean your kitchen. Vinegar is something you'd use to clean it anyhow. So, there's no need to disinfect your jars or tools for this purpose.
Step 2: Cut Some Herbs and Throw them in a Jar
Fill a mason jar or other wide-mouthed glass container half-full with some fresh cut rosemary from your herb garden. Throw in a few sprigs of thyme, hyssop, oregano, or marjoram if you want to get crazy!
Leave the stems. No need to do extra work.
Step 3: Muddle the Herbs
Using a wooden spoon, muddle the herbs a bit. Don't break your arm on this. You want to release a little of the aroma, so you can take a long deep breath and enjoy the fragrance.
Go on! You know you want to. Take a deep, intoxicating lungful of this fragrant stuff and feel the calm contentedness flowing through your body. Now, exhale and repeat a few times for good measure.
Seriously, even if you skipped this step, the vinegar would still extract the flavor. But, I love the smell of freshly crushed herbs. Don't you?
Step 4: Fill the Jar with Vinegar
Cover those herbs with vinegar and fill the jar, leaving just an inch of headspace. Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or even distilled white vinegar work great with savory herbs.
Raw vinegar has more health benefits though, so go with raw vinegar if you want this to be a tonic.
Step 5: Close the Jar
Vinegar is corrosive. Which is why it has a plastic cap when you buy it at the store.
At home, if you are using a mason jar, just put some plastic wrap over the lid area before you put on the lid. It will protect your lids from being eroded by vinegar and leaching metal bits into your extraction.
Step 6: Store in a Safe Place
If you have a pantry, put this on the shelf. Just keep it out of direct light, excessive heat or cold, and somewhere you can easily get to.
Step 7: Enjoy your Tea or Coffee
I bet your tea water is boiling or your coffee is about ready. So, grab a cup, have a seat and put your feet up for a while.
I mean, you've already been out to the garden, made a vinegar extraction, and done some deep-breath meditation. So, I think you've earned a little break!
Step 8: Shake Daily
Once a day, pick up the jar and shake it up. Then put it back on the shelf.
For savory herbs, do this for a week. For roots and dried spices, it can take up to two weeks of shaking to extract all the flavors.
Step 9: Strain and Bottle
Now that your extraction is ready strain out the herbs and put the vinegar in a pretty bottle. If you want to get super fancy, float a long sprig of fresh rosemary inside the bottle.
Remember to use a plastic lid for your bottle or line metal lids with plastic wrap. Having corroded metal leach into your beautiful vinegar creation is no fun.
Step 10: Repeat Steps 1-9 Often
Do this again tomorrow morning by filling a jar stuffed full of lemon balm or apple mint. These two soft, leafy mints are not quite as pungent as rosemary, so you the more you can shove in the jar, the better.
Beyond the Basics
Now that you have the basic concept down, you are ready to take your extractions to the next level. You can make extractions from a whole range of things.
Herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, and vegetables can all be fodder for delicious extractions. And there are no rules. Use what you have, stuff you jar, experiment, and take notes on your favorite results.
Beyond the edibles though, this basic process can also be used to make your home cleaning products more aromatic and beneficial. Many herbs like rosemary, lavender, and oregano have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that can add even more germ-fighting power to your disinfection processes. Plus, they make dull, distilled vinegar smell better!
You can use your vinegar extractions to kick your pickling up a notch. You can use your herbal or hot pepper extractions to make your homemade mustard and ketchup exponentially better than grocery store fare.
Some extractions take a bit more work than this simple herbal extraction we did today. Using root vegetables, for example, requires more chopping. Using fruit requires washing fruit first and maybe peeling or cubing.
Still, most extractions can be started in the time it takes you to boil water or make coffee. So, get started today and add making your own vinegar extractions, infusions, tonics, fire cider, or shrubs to your homesteader resume today!