Making Herb Vinegars

Left to right: Dill weed and seeds, Empress of India nasturtium flowers and leaves, basil-oregano-garlic, tarragon, purple basil-oregano-garlic, Alaska nasturtium flowers and leaves, and Black Velvet nasturtium flowers and leaves. All were made using white wine vinegar except for basil-oregano-garlic, which is in cider vinegar.

Making Herb Vinegars

by Mike McGeary

In the late 1950s my family moved from a farm in Portland, Oregon, to the semi-arid, high-desert town of Bend, where my mother started to grow flower and herb plants for sale. She also made and sold vinegars infused with a variety of herbs, flowers, and seeds. One of my fondest memories of returning home was seeing the picture window in the kitchen filled with different colored herb vinegars on glass shelves. I inherited her herb vinegar recipes and notes, and her go-to book, The Art of Cooking with Herbs and Spices, by Milo Miloradovich (Doubleday, 1950), with additional recipes she wrote down inside the book’s front and back covers.

My wife and I have been making our own herb vinegars since the mid-1970s. It’s fun and easy, and the flavored vinegars make wonderful salad dressings and marinades. Adding just a dash will perk up many dishes, such as coleslaw, sautéed beet greens, or steamed vegetables.

The Basic Process
The process for infusing vinegar is straightforward. The following is a brief overview of that process. The rest of this article provides additional information and more detailed instructions.

Use a clean wide-mouth glass jar, or other nonreactive container, into which you put your fresh herbs or flowers or seeds of choice. Then fill the jar with the vinegar you have selected. Let the infusion sit, tightly capped, in a warm place. Shake it daily. After 10 days to 2 weeks, sample for flavor. If you want a stronger flavor, let it infuse a little longer, or replace the herbs with fresh herbs. When you are happy with the taste, strain the vinegar into a narrow-neck bottle and cap or cork it tightly. The herb vinegar is ready to use, but it will last at least 3–6 months.

Choosing Your Ingredients
We use store-bought vinegars, primarily cider and white wine vinegar, but you can also use red wine, champagne, sherry, and rice wine vinegar. Most recipes specify a type of vinegar, but you can be creative and substitute another vinegar for a different taste. Distilled white vinegar is basically the same quality regardless of the brand, but the other vinegars are generally better the higher the quality of wine or cider used to make it, which is reflected in the price.

Ingredients that are commonly used in making flavored vinegar include basil, purple basil, borage, salad burnet, chive blossoms, nasturtium flowers, dill, lemon balm, marjoram, spearmint, orange mint, rosemary, tarragon, scented geranium leaves, thyme, and lemon thyme. They can be used singly or in combination. Our favorite is basil-oregano-garlic.

Purple basil, chive blossoms, and nasturtium flowers each add a beautiful color to their distinctive flavor. The color shows best in white wine or other clear vinegars.

You can also add seeds or other flavorings. The most commonly used are garlic, dill seed, pepper corns, celery seed, coriander seed, caraway seed, lemon zest, onion or shallots, and horseradish. In fact, any one of these ingredients can be used to make an infused vinegar (see, for example, the recipe for celery seed vinegar, below).

Preparing the Herbs
Fresh herbs provide the most flavor. You can grow them in your garden or buy them at the farmers’ market or grocery store. Herbs from your garden should be picked before the plants start to flower, when their flavor is at its peak. It is best to pick them early in the morning.

You don’t have to wash the herbs unless they are dirty. In that case, rinse them in water, and spin dry them or blot them with a towel before putting them in the jar.

Preparing the Infusion
It is important to use only nonreactive (i.e., glass, ceramic, and stainless steel) containers, lids and stoppers, and utensils when working with vinegar. Glass, ceramic, and stainless steel will not react with the vinegar, but clear glass jars are best—all the better to see what is happening inside the jar. It is also a good idea to attach a note to the jar or lid listing the ingredients, type of vinegar, and date of infusion.

We use one-quart canning jars and plastic lids, washed in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. Loosely pack the jars with the leafy herbs, bruising them a bit, by twisting them to help release the oil. For nasturtium vinegars, we put in a handful of leaves and a half-dozen or so flowers. You can add more flowers to deepen the color. Add any additional ingredients such as seeds or garlic, then fill the jar with vinegar.

Some recipes call for heating the vinegar before adding it, but that is not necessary when using fresh ingredients. Using dried herbs or crushed seeds, however, would be a reason to heat the vinegar (see recipe for celery seed vinegar, below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shake the jar each day to keep the herbs covered and distribute the flavor. (To prevent leakage, you can place a piece of plastic wrap over the jar before putting the lid on, as shown in the photo below. Check for flavor after two weeks. If you want a stronger flavor, you can add fresh herbs or simply let it sit for another week or two. If you think the flavor is too strong, you can dilute it by adding a small amount of water.

Decanting the Infused Vinegar
When the vinegar suits your taste, you are ready to decant it into clean, dry glass bottles. First, line a funnel with a double layer of cheese cloth, or other filter (we find that coffee filters result in a clearer vinegar). Pour the infused vinegar through the funnel until the bottle is full, and then cap it with a cork. Discard the solids.

Dressing It Up
We are always looking for interesting bottles—at yard sales and thrift stores—that are embossed with pretty designs, or have a distinctive shape, although any clear glass bottle works just fine.

When selling her vinegars, my mother put the appropriate fresh herb sprig, or blossom or flower, in each bottle. That adds a lovely touch and helps identify the contents, but unless you use the vinegar fairly quickly, they will fade. Usually, we don’t bother, but this time, because I am now trying to “sell” you on making your own herb vinegars, we placed some sprigs in a few of the bottles.

Finally, you can be creative with labels. We hang the label from a string around the neck of the bottle, so we don’t have to soak it off to refill the bottle the next year.

Some Recipes
Basil-Oregano-Garlic Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with roughly equal amounts of oregano and basil leaves and tender stems
  • Add 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Fill jar with apple cider vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Tarragon Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with tarragon leaves and tender stems
  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Basil or Purple Basil Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with basil leaves and tender stems

[Even a small amount of opal basil will produce a beautiful pinkish-red color]

  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne or rice wine) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Nasturtium and Garlic Vinegar

  • In 1-quart jar, put at least 6 or 7 nasturtium flowers and handful of nasturtium leaves

[The more flowers used, the deeper the color; the more leaves used, the stronger the flavor]

  • Add 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne or rice wine) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Celery Seed Vinegar

  • In 1-quart jar, put 2 ounces celery seed (or other aromatic seed, e.g., dill or caraway), crushed in a mortar with pestle, to release essential oil
  • Heat white wine or (distilled white)vinegar to almost boiling and fill the jar with the vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

ENJOY!

One response to “Making Herb Vinegars

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Mike! Coincidentally, I just put up some basil vinegar last week and have completed tarragon vinegar in the pantry.

    Like

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