Making herb flavored vinegars at home is an easy process requiring no specialized equipment and very little investment to produce beautiful bottles of vinegars anyone would be proud to give or receive as a gift. Herb flavored vinegars are used in a wide variety of recipes including salad dressings and toppings, marinades, sauces and vegetable dishes around the world. In gourmet shops, flavored vinegars and oils command a dear price, but, with a small investment, you can produce the same flavored vinegars at home using organic ingredients and glass containers. These can be colored wine bottles or other decorative bottles either purchased new or collected at garage sales over the summer. If you find purchased vinegars in nice bottles, they can be used by soaking off the manufacturer's label and replacing it with your own.
There are two basic methods for making herb flavored vinegars at home. The hot method involves using low heat to infuse the fresh herbs in the vinegar and the cold method relies on solar energy to accomplish the infusion. Both methods are effective, but the low heat method infuses the herbal oils quicker and saturates the herbs, allowing them to settle to the bottom of the bottle sooner.
1 2 quart, or larger, stainless steel or enamel saucepan, depending on how many bottles you intend to do at one time
Good quality vinegar: any variety will do, but the red and white wine, champaigne and apple cider vinegars are the most popular
Fresh herbs: usually three or four sprigs for the bottle and 1/4 cup or so of the crushed fresh herbs to seep in the warm vinegar
Pepper corns: Optional, but I usually put in three or four
A Funnel designed for small necked bottles
A bamboo skewer or tooth pick to push the warm herbs through the funnel spout into the bottle
A note about measuring the vinegar: If you are using found decorative bottles, thoroughly clean the bottles and pour hot water into them after washing to sanitize them. Pour out the hot water and fill with vinegar from a bulk container to within an inch or so of the top of the bottle. Then pour the vinegar from the bottle into the pan to heat. That will give the proper amount for each bottle if you are doing more than one batch at a time
As an example, I will use nasturtiums to make a peppery vinegar using the hot method. I am using the manufacturer's bottle that I have already soaked the label off of in preparation for my own label.
I poured the vinegar into the saucepan and slowly heated it up. In the meantime, I crushed some of the flowers and leaves of the nasturtiums and added them to the warm vinegar, along with the pepper corns. I lowered the heat, placed a lid on the pot and let it seep for five minutes or so.
After the vinegar has seeped remove it from the low heat and allow to cool for ten minutes or so. If you have added a lot of crushed herbs that you do not want in the finished produce, place a couple of layers of cheesecloth or muslin over the funnel spout to filter the crushed herbs out of the vinegar. One the vinegar has cooled slightly, gather the whole sprigs from the pot and place them into the bottle for decoration.
Gently pour the warm vinegar into the bottle over the herb sprigs. If the vinegar amount is not enough after adding to the bottle, cap the level off with more vinegar so that the level is about one inch from the top of the bottle.
Once the bottle is filled and capped, I place it on a sunny window sill to cool and seep. Once it is completely cooled, wash the outside of the bottle thoroughly and apply your label to the dry bottle. I occassionally gently shake the bottle to mix up the herbs, which will eventually sink to the bottom of the bottle in time.