By Felicia Brower, Master Gardener Apprentice, Denver County Extension
Making herb-flavored vinegar is an easy way to get the most out your herb garden. The vinegars take on the taste of whichever herb or herb combination soaked in them, so you have an opportunity to get creative and to make a fun base for salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and other recipes. To make flavored vinegar, you can use herbs that are fresh, frozen, or dried – just make sure that there are no signs of mold or rot on any of them.
STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR VINEGAR BASE
You can use several different types of vinegars for your flavoring base depending on how you want the end product to taste. It is recommended that you only use commercially produced vinegar as a base to prevent any spoilage or unstable activity and that you keep a close eye on it as it soaks. Vinegar is high in acid, so it does not support the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria (which causes botulism), but some vinegars may support the growth of Escherichia coli bacteria (commonly known as E. coli).
Distilled white, apple cider, rice, and wine vinegars are all common options for bases. If your herbs will impart a color on the vinegar or if you want a visual component, keep that in mind when choosing which one you want to use. As a warning, rice and wine vinegars contain protein that provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth if not stored properly, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on them while they’re soaking.
STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR HERBS
The quality of the herbs will greatly impact the flavor of your vinegar. Use only the best leaves and flowers, and discard any discolored, bruised, torn, or nibbled parts of the herbs. For the most flavor, pick fresh herbs just after the morning dew has dried.
What herbs can you use? Chives blossoms (pictured above) give you a light onion flavor with a stunning color. Other popular herbs for flavored vinegars include rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, thyme, dill, oregano, peppercorn, mustard seed, and lemon balm.
If you’re unsure of the flavors you prefer, try experimenting with small batches. If you’re a novice at making flavored vinegars, this is a good way to start in case there are any issues with spoilage or mold along the way.
STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR CONTAINER
Before you make your vinegar, make sure that you have the proper storage containers. Use only glass jars or bottles that are free of cracks or nicks and can be sealed with a screw-band lid, cap, or cork. Make sure the containers are all properly sterilized prior to use.
STEP 4: MAKE YOUR VINEGAR
To make your vinegar, begin by thoroughly cleaning and drying your herbs. Make sure that you’ve sterilized your jars and then fill them with your desired amount and variety of herbs. Allow three to four sprigs of fresh herbs or 3 tablespoons of dried herbs per pint of vinegar.
You have two options: preparing a hot vinegar solution or pouring a room temperature one. If you want to prepare a hot solution, heat the vinegar to just below boiling (190F), and then pour over the herbs and cap tightly. If you want a room temperature solution, simply pour your vinegar over choice over your herbs and make sure they are fully submerged. With either option, cover the jar or bottle with a non-metal lid to prevent corrosive activity.
The herbs should begin to flavor the vinegar after a few days, but letting it sit in a cool, dark place for three to four weeks will bring out more flavor from your herbs. Taste it every few days to see how it’s progressing and to test if it’s finished. To test for flavor development, place a few drops of the flavored vinegar on some white bread and taste. The flavoring process can be shortened by a week or so by bruising or coarsely chopping the herbs before placing them in the bottles and adding the vinegar.
When it reaches the optimal flavor, strain out the solid herbs and pour your vinegar into a clean, sterilized jar. You should strain it a few times to make sure you don’t leave any small particles behind. Don’t leave the herbs in the vinegar for longer than two months, as the risk of spoilage increases after that time. If you see any signs of mold or fermentation, discard the vinegar and do not consume. (This is where the small batches come in handy!)
If properly prepared, flavored vinegars should retain good quality for two to three months in cool room storage and for six to eight months in refrigerated storage. If you notice any signs of mold or fermentation (such as bubbling, cloudiness, or sliminess) in your flavored vinegar, throw it away without tasting or using for any purpose. For the best flavor retention, store in the refrigerator.
HOW TO USE YOUR VINEGAR
Use your herb vinegar as a base for a salad dressing or as an alternative in any recipe that calls for plain vinegar. They add zest to marinades and interesting flavors to dressings for vegetable, salads, and pastas.
RECIPES TO TRY
Fresh Dill Vinegar
8 sprigs fresh dill
4 cups (1 quart) white vinegar
Wash dill and dip in solution of 1 teaspoon household bleach in 6 cups water. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Place dill in sterilized quart jar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling point (190 F); pour over dill. Cap tightly and allow to stand in cool, dark place for three to four weeks. Strain vinegar, discarding dill. Pour vinegar into clean sterilized bottles with tight fitting covers. Add a fresh sprig of cleaned and sanitized dill, if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 1 quart.
4 cups red wine vinegar
8 sprigs fresh parsley
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sage leaves
Thoroughly wash herbs and dip in solution of 1 teaspoon household bleach in 6 cups water. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water and pat dry. Place herbs in sterilized quart jar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling point (190 F); pour over herbs. Cap tightly and allow to stand in cool, dark place for three to four weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain out herbs. Pour vinegar into clean sterilized bottles with tight fitting covers. Add a fresh sprig of cleaned and sanitized parsley, if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 1 quart.
For more information, refer to the CSU Extension Fact Sheet No. 9.340: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/flavored-vinegars-and-oils-9-340/