Sour Grapes:Vinegar Beyond the Kitchen
JULY 01, 2003 -- From my earliest interest in vinegar, an interest that involved baking soda and a papier-mache volcano, I have been struck by the wonders of this most ancient and enigmatic of foods. For most people, vinegar is strictly a culinary item, and certainly that is where specialty vinegars achieve their greatest heights. But for centuries, vinegar has been used for a wide variety of purposes in venues ranging from the kitchen to the garden, and all sorts of places in between.
Date: 7/10/2005 9:42:02 PM ( 16 y ) ... viewed 4455 times
Sour Grapes: Taking Vinegar Beyond the Kitchen
By James Mellgren
When merchandising your selection of vinegars, displaying vinegar's versatility for your customers can help boost sales and encourage them to stock different kinds in their pantries, which of course, they should be doing anyway. Even within the realm of cooking, vinegar is seldom used to its full potential, and is usually relegated to use in salad dressings, at least for those who actually make their own. Here then is a look at vinegar from some new angles, illustrating why it is surely the most versatile ingredient in our homes.
A Cure for What Ails You
Vinegar is a product that was not invented - it was simply discovered. It has been in existence for as long as fermented beverages. Acetobacter aceti, the bacteria responsible for converting the alcohol into acetic acid, has been floating around the atmosphere much longer, presumably since the beginning of time. Just like its sometime partner olive oil, many of the earliest uses for vinegar were of a nonculinary nature. Indeed, Hippocrates wrote of its value as a medicinal in the 5th century BC. Throughout history, vinegar was prescribed for a long list of ailments both internal and external. It is still widely recommended for its curative effects for everything from sunburn and mosquito bites to liver problems and high cholesterol. Many even recommend it as a daily restorative, or a sort of cure-all to keep one healthy, an alternative or addition to the apple-a-day for keeping the doctor away.
The apple comparison is an apt one for most literature dealing with the various folk remedies using vinegar talks specifically about apple cider vinegar, probably the oldest type of vinegar made in America, and the preferred type in areas renowned for the quality or quantity of their apples, such as the Northwest United States and France's Normandy. Apple cider vinegar is also the kind of vinegar usually noted for its healthful properties above all the rest, although new research showing wine's healthful value may bring wine vinegars into the medicinal forefront. Many sources recommend taking a daily dose of cider vinegar for general health, memory enhancement, and long life. This may be accomplished by drinking a glass of warm water containing two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar every day. Like most herbal and homeopathic remedies, it couldn't hurt.
Curiously, many of the books written about vinegar shy away from health claims because they are so difficult to substantiate without extensive studies that can take many years to reach conclusions. The ancients were well aware, however, of cider vinegar's health-giving properties, and noticed the effect on those who indulged regularly. Thus began a tradition of home remedies that continues to this day. If the promotion of long life and enhanced memory aren't enough to entice one to consume vinegar regularly, consider these maladies that can be aided by taking cider vinegar either topically or internally: Acne, arthritis, bad breath, bladder infections, colds, coughs, digestion, chronic headaches, joint pains, morning sickness, and insomnia. It is also recommended for bee stings, as an insect repellent, for sunburn relief, and yes, even postnasal drip. None of this is to suggest that you turn your store into a homeopathic pharmacy, but by including these simple remedies on shelf signage or in your store newsletter, you can add more reasons for your customers to buy vinegar.
As Mr. Newman notes above, more and more cleaning products are promoting their ingredients as real and natural, such as those made with oranges and lemons. Why? Because the acids and other natural properties found in citrus fruit and vinegar have proved far superior in cleaning applications than almost anything scientists can concoct in the lab, and it reduces the fear of using unknown chemicals. A recent article in Delicious Living magazine points out that out of four million or so household chemicals created in the last century, only 20 percent of them have actually been tested for any possible adverse health effects. Among the chemicals in household products that have been tested, more than 150 may cause cancer, allergies, birth defects, or psychological disorders, according to studies conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. And, says the National Academy of Science, Americans are becoming increasingly sensitive to chemicals and as a result, are often experiencing allergic reactions to them. That is sobering information indeed and a very strong argument for the use of more natural cleaning products, including one that usually sits in the kitchen unused, vinegar.
Vinegar is an outstanding cleaning product and disinfectant. Among its more obvious uses are the cleaning of tile floors, sinks, bathtubs, Venetian blinds, shower curtains, and countertops. It is also very effective for unclogging drains, polishing brass and copper, cleaning chrome surfaces, and it is without equal in its ability to clean windows and other glass surfaces. Vinegar will dissolve wax, glue, and those annoying price stickers. It is also useful for removing pen marks from walls and furniture. It unclogs showerheads and faucets, takes odors out of the refrigerator and cupboards, and removes mildew. No better way exists to clean out bottles and decanters - simply pour in some vinegar and shake. You may also add some uncooked rice to help scour away the stains without damaging the glass. The list goes on for areas throughout the house.
Move outside and vinegar will kill grass and weeds growing between cracks in the sidewalk, loosen rusty hinges and bolts, clean tools, and rid the garden of many pests. Vinegar extends the life of cut flowers, aids in geminating seeds, and is great for cleaning mildew and fungus off of plant leaves. When painting, setting several dishes of vinegar in the room will dissipate paint fumes, plus it can aid in the cleanup of dried-up brushes and remove dried paint from glass. In the laundry, vinegar helps brighten clothes, freshens baby clothes, and removes all kinds of stains from clothing, including those due to wine, cola drinks, barbecue sauce, and ink. Vinegar in the wash also helps eliminate odors, including those caused by cigarette smoke. Vinegar is a safe way to disinfect baby toys, clothes, and furniture. It is necessary for dyeing Easter eggs, and you can even use it to make your own clay.
Vinegar is also good for cleaning you. It is good for the skin, makes a relaxing bath, and cleans hairbrushes, combs, eyeglasses, jewelry, and dentures. In short, there is almost nothing that vinegar won't clean, shine, fix, or generally enhance throughout the house, tool shed, garden, and automobile. In fact, if one were really going to use all the vinegar applications, you would have to buy vinegar by the case.
In the Kitchen
This is the realm in which most people, especially cooks, appreciate vinegar, and yet it is sadly underused. Aside from creating a vinaigrette, agreeably one of the best uses for good vinegar, most folks just don't know what to do with vinegar. Of course, here the vinegar's quality and style are more important than in cleaning windows or removing wine stains. Remembering that vinegar is usually one of the main ingredients in some of our most cherished condiments - ketchup, chutney, mustard, barbecue sauce, and steak sauce, it is logical to assume that it will also work wonderfully well in a variety of kitchen uses on its own.
Try adding a dash of fruit-flavored vinegar to fresh fruit salads. Aged balsamic vinegar, sherry, or raspberry vinegar are all excellent choices for enhancing fruit. Boldly flavored vinegar can add just the right finishing touch to hearty soups and many sauces. Vinegar is essential to potato salad and one can experiment with different types for variation. Try a little in gravy for an added zip, and flavorful vinegar splashed over steamed vegetables can turn diet food into a real delight. A touch of vinegar helps make white rice fluffy, and can keep the odor of cooking cabbage from permeating the house. You can make a wonderfully refreshing drink by simply putting a tablespoon or two of flavored vinegar into club soda. The range of vinegars available also works for desserts. Try authentic aged balsamic vinegar on ice cream or over fresh strawberries. Vinegar pie made from eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and vinegar is a venerable old American dessert that can be made when other ingredients are not around, especially during the winter months.
The point here, of course, is to promote all of vinegar's exceptional qualities in the kitchen and the rest of the home, and thereby, boost awareness and sales of this staple product. Several sources, as well as my own experience were culled for this article, but the most useful source of all is a book called Vim & Vinegar (Harper Perennial) by Melodie More, the publisher of Tightwad Living, who collected tips for years on how to save money on household products. She gives an exhaustive list of vinegar's uses, plus dozens of recipes for cleaning ideas, beauty secrets, children's projects (making your own clay is my favorite), and of course, food.
Two other books on vinegar that every cook should have in their library are Ari Weinzweig's Zingerman's Guide to Good Vinegar (available from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Mich.) and The Good Cook's Book of Oil & Vinegar (Addison Wesley) by Michele Anna Jordan. Both discuss the technical aspects of vinegar, as well as choosing, storing, and cooking with the good stuff.
The 'ol tried-and-true vinegar is obviously underappreciated. Vinegar just may be one of the most exciting items in your store, yet few retailers really try to merchandise their selection, except for the very high-end examples. Show your customers through signage, demos, and creative displays how they can employ vinegar to enhance their lives, their culinary endeavors, and make many of life's drudgeries a little easier to take. So whisk those vinegars off of the bottom shelf, and start using them in the store the next time you embark on a little spring cleaning.
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