Wine vinegars of India
Far from the bottled, chemical vinegars sold in India is a world of home-produced, indigenous vinegars.
Wine unless stabilized by suitable additives quickly commences to turn into vinegar. The regional cuisines and traditional medicine of India has long used the comparatively easier-to-make vinegars from fruit, plants and even fish! While the Indian wine industry has not really started making wine vinegars commercially, we take a closer look around home to appreciate traditional vinegars of India.
Hamdard Dawakhana a dimly lit shop selling Unani medicine in Nazirabad, Lucknow is just one such place where traditional Indian Wine vinegars are available.
Among them, ‘Jamun ka sirka’ made from ripe Jamun fruit goes very well with a raw onion salad, the erstwhile owner Atiq Ahmed had once told me. This was food as medicine he said. Jamun vinegar is not only an appetizer, it also aids digestion. Which is why, I recognized later that salad with a tangy-sweet, purple, aromatic jamun vinegar dressing is not a novelty at Indian meals. Anyone who has tasted mangos pickled in jamun vinegar would agree about the use of this wine vinegar in Indian cuisine.
Jamun in Ayurvedic terms is an astringent and sweet fruit. Vinegar is made from the juice of slightly unripe, tangy purple jamuns, which are otherwise eaten with a dash of salt, and a great favourite of village kids who pelt stones at the fruit that hangs high in bunches on tall, glistening trees.
If it is the sweeter ones that they’d rather have, they simply take their pick from the spread of fruit fallen under the tree, which lands there in varying shades of ripeness and over-ripeness, smelling of wine-in-the-making.
The ripe jamun is a carminative, digestive, coolant and liver stimulant and jamun vinegar has similar properties.
Jamun is favoured for its diabetes controlling powers. Tests at the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, indicate that ingesting the alcoholic extract of the seeds reduces the level of blood sugar and glycosuria.
Sugarcane vinegar from North India
The Unani medicine shop I mentioned also stocks sugarcane vinegar. But of course, sugarcane being a gift to the world from India, we’d be the first ones to know its uses, right?
Ganne ka sirka has its uses as food and medicine. The Parsi and Christian community in India has retained the sugarcane vinegar in their kitchens. As a commercial product, sugarcane vinegar made by the Navsari’s EF Kolah & Sons since the year 1885, is popular.
Wine vinegar was long used by Roman soldiers in the field to purify drinking water. The acetic acid therein killing off germs.
Coconut Vinegar from Kerala
We heard of a coconut farmer from Kerala willing to sell his formula for making coconut water wine to anyone who’d see the commercial opportunity. No news on that as yet. Yet, coconut vinegar has long been in use. And the place to find them readily is at FabIndia.
Toddy Vinegar from Goa
Vindaloo, a Goan dish with Portuguese decent uses toddy vinegar. This Goan vinegar teems well with traditional Goan recipes.
Apple Cider Vinegar from Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh with its bountiful apple harvest is right on track selling apple cider, but I daresay, apple vinegar may not have roots in local cuisine. Apples are not part of the original flora, but come from European settlers.
Kombucha Vinegar from Auroville
Auroville produces Kombucha vinegar. It also comes in fennel flavor.
Fish ‘n’ Tamarind Vinegar from Coorg!
Vinegar made from fish and tamarind? The answer is yes at Coorg. It finds many uses in local cuisine.
Is chemically produced vinegar different from natural, wine vinegar?
Vinegar results from fermentation of ethanol to ethanoic (acetic) acid, the concentration kept at 4-8% for table purposes and upto 18% for pickling. Wine vinegars have an advantage over the chemically-produced ones. They preserve the goodness of the fruit they come from, with the medicinal aspects intact. Vinegar may have got its name from a French translation meaning sour wine, but has been traditionally part of almost every world cuisine.