A few days ago I decanted my first batch of homemade apple "cider" vinegar that I started late last fall from tap water and the leftover apple pomace from our cider pressing. Pomace is just fancy vocabulary for the solid remains of the fruit after the juices have been pressed out and collected. When I say that I made the vinegar, I am of course exaggerating. Actually, I only set the ingredients in place, and let the volunteer acetobacillus microbes do all the real work. I gave the bacteria about seven weeks to do their job.
From a glass jar with a one-gallon capacity I got almost 7 cups of a very light colored, slightly cloudy, and apple-scented vinegar. I probably could have gotten more if I had put less pomace and more water in the jar. But in all likelihood, it would probably have been weaker vinegar too. When I talk about the strength or weakness of the vinegar, I'm referring to the level of acidity. Acetobacillus needs something to live on other than water. In this case it would be the residual sugars remaining in the pomace. (Cores and peels saved from apple for apple pie would work even better, most likely, since they would contain more sugars.) Less pomace to more water would have meant less food for the microbes. When I started this experiment, I filled about 60%-75% of the jar with coarsely ground pomace, and filled the rest with our well water.
While I don't have an incredibly precise measurement of the acidity in our homemade vinegar, I know it's weaker than three different store-bought varieties. The picture above shows the litmus test results for our homemade apple cider vinegar, compared to rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and distilled white vinegar. (My husband's a science geek, which is why we have litmus test strips lying around our house.) I think you can see, even in this picture, that the right-most square on the cider vinegar strip is a little lighter than those for the other three vinegars. Each of the store bought vinegars came in at a clear 2 on the litmus scale, though the red wine vinegar might be just slightly weaker than the rice wine vinegar and the distilled vinegar. Our homemade apple cider vinegar reads as a 3 on the scale, indicating lower acidity.
What difference does the acidity level make? Well, if I wanted to use this vinegar for pickling things, it might become very much an issue. To ensure food safety, one needs a standard level of acidity in the pickling solution. Standard vinegars usually register at 5% acidity, and are diluted according to the pickling recipe. On the other hand, I could easily adjust a vinaigrette recipe to balance the lower acidity of this homemade vinegar. In terms of taste, our homemade vinegar is light and pleasant, with a moderate apple flavor.
The thing about this vinegar is that it's raw and contains live acetobacillus bacteria. That means that there's at least a decent chance that the acid levels will increase gradually, even though the solids have been removed. If I wanted to stop this process, I'd have to cook the vinegar to kill the bacteria. But right now I'm content to let the vinegar do its own thing. I'll test the vinegar again in a few more months. If the acidity level changes, I'll post an update.
We're not eating too many salads right now in the depths of winter. But I look forward to using this homemade food on the early spring salads of the year. Now that I know that we can make this vinegar from the by product of our cider pressing - for almost no additional cost or effort - I'll be making more of it after our next pressing.
Following Up Some Experiments