There is no standard of identity for vinegar in the United States, but there are guidelines that define the starting material, the finished specifications, and the labeling declaration. First, as will be described in more detail later, vinegar must be made from one of various types of ethanol-containing solutions. The most common starting materials, whose identity must be indicated on the label, are grape and rice wine, fermented grain or malt mashes, and fermented apple cider. Distilled ethanol is also permitted as a substrate for vinegar manufacture. Importantly, vinegar must, by definition, result from the "acetous fermentation" of ethanol. In other words, acetic acid made via chemical synthesis cannot be labeled as vinegar.Vinegar must contain at least 4% acetic acid or at least forty grains (where one grain = 0.1% acid). Usually, the ethanol concentration is less than 0.5%, and the pH is between 2.0 and 3.5. In countries where identity standards do exist, they generally are consistent with the U.S. definition.
As noted above, the raw material determines the name of the vinegar (e.g., red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar). However, the starting material also has a profound influence on the flavor and overall quality attributes of the vinegar. Although the predominant flavor of all vinegars is due to acetic acid, other flavors, specific to the ethanol source or the means of its manufacture, may also be present. In addition, some vinegars may also contain herbs (e.g., tarragon), added before or after the fermentation.
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