Fruit vinegar is incredibly easy to make using either homegrown or storebought juice. While you can take a shortcut and infuse storebought vinegar with fruit for flavor, there’s something incredibly satisfying about making your own probiotic vinegar from scratch with high-quality fruit.
This post is written by Autumn Keim, the talented writer, and inspiring homesteader behind the blog A Traditional Life.
There’s nothing more rewarding than growing or foraging food from the land, then using it to create something tasty and unique to your own home. Fruit vinegar is no exception!
When I first began searching for information regarding the vinegar making process, it wasn’t easy to come by. When I finally did begin fermenting fruit juice, I was both pleased and surprised by the simplicity of the entire process.
Making homemade vinegar is a two-part process, that starts with fermenting the fruit into alcohol. Acetic acid bacteria then convert the alcohol to vinegar in the second stage of fermentation. Done properly, there’s no residual alcohol, just beneficial probiotic vinegar right from your own backyard.
Types of Fruit Vinegar
You can use almost any fruit or berry to make homemade fruit vinegar. Traditionally, frugal homemakers made a simple white vinegar from sugar, water, and a handful of raisins to introduce natural yeast, but using fruit dramatically improves both flavor and nutrition.
While some fruit juices do better with a bit of added sweetener, most of them don’t need any help. I wish I could say I’ve made every type you could imagine, but this simply isn’t true. The fact is, I don’t have access to every type of fruit and when it comes to making vinegar, I will always be a learner!
Here are the varieties I have made in my own home:
- Apple Vinegar ~ A robust vinegar, excellent for herbal infusions, meat marinades, combine with milk for buttermilk substitute.
- Apricot Vinegar ~ A light golden flavor, well suited to mild vinegarettes.
- Blackberry Vinegar ~ An excellent candidate for shrubs, condiments, and salad dressings.
- Elderberry Vinegar ~ Add ¼ C sweetener per quart (1 liter) juice before fermenting; take as a preventative for sickness.
- Cherry Vinegar ~ A rich, thick vinegar, suitable for salad dressings, shrubs and summer drinks.
- Chokecherry Vinegar ~ Add ¼ C sweetener per quart (1 liter) before fermenting; makes thick, heavy vinegar.
- Red Currant ~ Suitable for dressings, condiments, use as an addition to sweet drinks.
- Grape Vinegar ~ The flavor profile varies according to type, suitable for vinegarettes and dressings.
- Juneberry Vinegar ~ A thick vinegar, use in salad dressings, and add to refreshing summer drinks.
- Mountain Huckleberry Vinegar ~ A wonderful option for refreshing summer drinks and vinegarettes.
- Plum Vinegar ~ With a bold flavor, it pairs well with basil and is excellent for meat marinades.
- Raspberry Vinegar ~ Has a rich flavor, pairs well with mint in homemade condiments, vinegarettes and shrubs.
- Strawberry Vinegar ~ Excellent for sweet salad dressings or refreshing sweet drinks.
There are obviously many other types of fruit vinegar, and traditional vinegars were made with just about any fruit available.
Vinegar Making Equipment
Historically, vinegar making equipment was simple and based on common household items that every homestead had available. Fruit wants to ferment into alcohol, and vinegar bacteria will “sour” the ferment unless you take active steps to stop them. Do nothing, and vinegar more or less happens (most of the time).
As a vinegar maker, all you’re doing is guiding the process, encouraging the right type of fermentation while discouraging mold.
It helps to have a bit of simple vinegar making equipment on hand, but in truth all you really need is a simple container (jar or crock) and patience. If you plan on making multiple batches of high-quality fruit vinegar at home, here’s some vinegar making equipment that will make your life a bit easier:
- Apple Cider Press (or Small Fruit Press) ~ Fruit presses allow you to extract juice from fruit efficiently without heating the fruit. Soft fruits like grapes press easily, while apples require a fruit grinder that chops them up before pressing. That’s the main difference between a simple fruit press and an apple cider press. For large volumes of homemade apple cider vinegar, consider a double-barrel apple cider press.
- Champion Electric Juicer ~ Another great option for juicing, the champion juicer is known as a “masticating juicer” and it’s much more efficient than the standard centrifugal (spinning) juicer, but they can be pricey. Inexpensive juicers also work, but roughly 20-30% of the juice volume remains in the fruit pulp, which isn’t a big deal if you’re only making fruit vinegar occasionally. The Breville juice fountain is a good middle of the road option, since it’s a lot less expensive than a champion juicer but still quite efficient.
- Cotton Straining Cloths (Or Cheesecloth) ~ Cheesecloth can be helpful for straining the finished vinegar, or if you’re juicing by hand without a juicer or press you can use your hands to juice soft fruits wrapped in cheesecloth. Cotton flour sack towels work well since they have a fine weave. If you’re using cheesecloth, choose 90-grade cheesecloth (the finest weave) as other cheaper weaves won’t filter the homemade fruit vinegar effectively.
- Potato Masher ~ For mashing fruit if you don’t have a juicer or fruit press. This works pretty well in a pinch, especially with soft fruits.
- Steam Juicer ~ A great option for pectin rich fruits that are difficult to extract as a pure juice (rather than a nectar). They’re super-efficient, and perfect for home winemaking (like this cherry wine) and jellies (like this blackcurrant jelly) as well.
- Large Glass Jars (Gallon, half-gallon or quart) ~ For fermenting the homemade fruit vinegar.
- 1-gallon Stoneware Crock ~ Another good option for home vinegar making, stoneware crocks work really well for all manner of home ferments (like this sauerkraut made in a stoneware crock).
- 1-gallon & 1/2 Gallon Glass Carboy Jugs ~ Used by home winemakers, carboys are a great way to control the primary alcoholic fermentation for your fruit vinegar (and they’re a convenient glass container).
- Swingtop Bottles (Grolsch Bottles) ~ With the bottle and cap integrated together, these bottles are used to store all manner of home ferments from hard cider and kombucha, to your own DIY fruit vinegar.
- Wine Bottles with Corks ~ Another easy way to store homemade vinegar, and you can use just any old re-used wine bottle provided it’s clean.
While equipment makes the process easier, the truth is all you need to make high-quality homemade fruit vinegar is a food-safe container, a bit of juice, and patience.
How to Make Fruit Vinegar
Once you’ve assembled your vinegar making equipment and picked out your fruit, it’s time to make fruit vinegar!
Here’s how you can take your fruits and turn them into a vinegar that is shelf-stable and can be used in homemade condiments, herbal remedies, refreshing summer drinks, and even in your baking.
I’ll take you through each step of the vinegar making process in detail, but here are the basic steps:
- Harvest Fully Ripe Fruit
- Extract Fruit Juice (Multiple methods discussed)
- Alcoholic Fermentation (with yeast)
- Acetic Acid Fermentation (Converting alcohol to vinegar)
- Bottling Vinegar
- Storing Homemade Fruit Vinegar
Harvesting Fruit for Fruit Vinegar
The first step in the vinegar making process is to harvest your fruit or berries of choice when they are fully ripe. Natural sugars are most concentrated at this point and will make a stronger vinegar, with a richer flavor profile.
Fully ripe fruits also have less pectin, which will make it easier for you to fully extract the juice.
Extracting Juice for Homemade Vinegar (4 Ways)
After you’ve harvested your fruit, you must find a way to extract the juice for fermenting! There are 4 basic methods you can use. I’ve outlined them for you below!
Extracting Juice with A Juicer or Cider Press
When dealing with firm, crip fruits (such as apples and some pear varieties), an electric kitchen juicer or a large cider press are ideal. They’ll extract juice with speed and ease!
Hand Juice Extraction
Juices from soft or fragile fruits (like grapes or berries) are easy to extract by hand. This method is a wonderful choice if you wish to keep your juice in raw form! Here’s how you do it.
- Line a large bowl with a cotton cloth and dump clean fruit into it.
- Take a potato masher (or clean hands) and work your grapes or berries, until they’re thoroughly broken up.
- Gather the 4 corners of your cloth and knot them together.
- Hang your “sack” of mashed fruit where juices will drip into a bowl below.
- When the dripping stops, you’ll have delicious fruit juice, ready for fermenting!
Stovetop Juice Extraction
Fruit types with lower liquid content (currants, gooseberries, chokecherries, blue elderberries, etc) make excellent candidates for the steam juicer! If you have one, simply follow the directions in your owner’s manual to extract juice from your particular type of fruit.
If you don’t have a steam juicer, you can also use an old fashioned, stovetop extraction. Simply follow the directions below!
- Place clean fruit a pot with a thick-walled bottom.
- Cover fruit halfway with water, then apply gentle heat.
- Slowly simmer your fruit, stirring occasionally until it softens and splits open.
- Allow everything to cool until there’s no danger of being burnt!
- Line a large bowl with a cloth and pour the pot’s contents into it.
- Knot the 4 corners of your cloth together and hang where juices will drip into a bowl below.
- When the dripping stops, you’ll have a collection of fruit juice, ready for fermenting!
Fruit Water Infusion (instead of juicing)
This option is well suited to nearly any type of fruit. It does particularly well with berries, stone fruits, and any berry that has lower liquid content.
- Place clean fruit in a large glass jar, filling it 2/3 full.
- Add chlorine-free water until your fruit is covered by approximately 1 inch.
- Cover with a lid to keep bugs and dust out.
- Keep the jar at the back of your counter for 4-6 days.
- Line a bowl with a cotton cloth and pour your infused liquid into it. Lift the fruit out and, if the fruit retained liquid, let it drip until the bowl below, as with previous methods.
- Fill the jar 2/3 full of ripe fruit once again.
- Pour your infused liquid over the fresh fruit and then let it sit for another 4-6 days.
- Strain. If desired, you can do a 3rd or 4th infusion.
- When you’re satisfied with the flavor profile and the strength of your juice, it’s ready for fermenting!
Fermenting Fruit Vinegar
There are two fermenting phases your fruit juice must go through before it turns to vinegar. The first is referred to as the “alcohol” phase, while the second is referred to as the “acetic acid” phase. Let me walk you through them both!
Phase 1: Alcohol Phase
Natural, airborne yeasts are responsible for the first stage of fermentation. Yes, they already exist in your home and were also present on the skin of your fruit!
Yeast present in the air or on the skins of fresh fruit will naturally start an alcoholic fermentation when left open at room temperature.
(If you want to try another fun project, you can even harvest your own yeast for homemade bread using a potato. The process uses those same airborne yeasts, but for bread baking instead.)
As your juice sits in the proper temperature range, these yeasts go into action and will begin feeding on the natural fruit sugars. As they feed, they release carbon dioxide and convert the natural sugars to alcohol.
If you see bubbles on the sides of your container or on the surface of your liquid, it’s a sure sign that yeasts are in action. After about 10-14 days have passed, you’ll likely notice a light, alcohol-like aroma wafting up from the mouth of your jar. This is yet another sign that good things are happening!
Phase 2: The Acetic Acid Phase
Once yeasts have consumed most of the sugars, a natural, airborne bacteria group joins the party. Acetobacters take the alcohol and very slowly, transform it into acetic acid. During this time, your fruit juice will begin emitting a sharp, nose-tingling aroma.
Vinegar making bacteria must be exposed to air to work, so it’s important to keep your ferment closely covered with cloth or cheesecloth to ensure that it can actually turn to vinegar. Home winemakers use something called an “Air Lock” which creates a one-way valve at the top of their fermentation vessel. This lets the carbonation produced by the yeast escape but prevents vinegar producing bacteria from colonizing. That’s the opposite of what we want when making fruit vinegar.
While winemakers have to really work to prevent the alcohol from turning to vinegar, we’ll just sit by and let those little hardworking probiotic microbes go to work.
This aroma will grow stronger as the weeks pass by, and you’ll notice a “mother culture” forming within your fermentation vessel. That’s totally normal, as the acetic acid bacteria form a colony that’s held together in a cellulose matrix. It looks a bit like a jellyfish floating in the container.
If you want to speed up the process, or if you run into any issues getting good colonization from acetic acid bacteria, you can add a few tablespoons of raw vinegar (with the mother) to ensure that the vinegar producing bacteria can take hold.
The second phase of fermentation takes 3-6x longer than the first. But when it’s all over, you’ll have a delicious, shelf-stable vinegar.
Important Note on Fermenting Containers
Because vinegar is an acidic substance, you should always use food-grade containers for fermenting! If you don’t, vinegar may leach unwanted properties into itself, which could potentially make you sick.
I recommend using glass jars or lead-free stoneware crocks for the fermenting process.
When you are ready to begin, pour fruit juice into your container of choice. Cover the mouth with a clean cloth, coffee filter, or paper towel. Be sure to fasten it down so fruit flies can’t get in!
The fermenting process is dependent on airborne yeast and bacteria, so it’s absolutely vital that you use a breathable cover, allowing airflow to reach the surface of the liquid.
Importance of Your Temperature Range
Because DIY fruit vinegar relies on these natural, airborne yeast and bacteria, it’s very important that you leave your juice to ferment in temperatures that are conducive to the growth of these organisms.
If temperatures drop too low, fermentation will be very slow or even non-existent. Expose your ferment to temperatures that are too high and the wrong yeasts may take over, spoiling your fruit juice.
Fortunately for us, most of our homes fall into the proper temperature range of 60-80F (15-26C). Often, the best place for fermentation fruit juice is actually at the back of your kitchen counter!
(If you happen to live in a Northern climate and keep your house a bit cooler, you can read more about fermenting in cold climates.)
When is Homemade Fruit Vinegar Finished?
For ease of use and to avoid evaporation, you should bottle up your fruit vinegar once it has finished fermenting. Trouble is, it’s not always easy to tell when it has finished! If you seal it up too soon, the liquid will carbonate, resulting in a bubbly mess when you break the seal.
Here’s a simple test you can use to determine whether or not your vinegar is finished!
Pour several inches of your fermenting juice into a bottle or glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Seal it up, then let it sit at the back of your counter for 2-3 days. Break the seal. If there was a release of carbon dioxide, it hasn’t yet finished working! Return the liquid to your fermenting container and let it sit for 2-3 more weeks. Test again.
When there is no release of carbon dioxide, you can safely bottle up your vinegar!
Bottling Homemade Fruit Vinegar
When the time comes to store your vinegar, be sure to use food-grade containers! Also be equally sure to stay away from tin or metal lids.
Vinegar is corrosive and will eat away at metal covers. For this reason, I recommend storing your vinegar in canning jars with plastic lids, swing-top bottles, or (my personal favorite) glass bottles and jugs with cork stoppers.
Storing Fruit Vinegar
Homemade fruit vinegar is shelf-stable and can be stored in a kitchen cupboard, on a pantry shelf, in a cold room, or (if you have one) a root cellar!
If stored at room temperature, the flavor of your fruit vinegar will slowly mellow out over 12 month’s time. It’ll still be tasty, but it will lose some of its edge. If you want to hang onto the snap and bite, store it in a cool place!
Learn More About Fermenting Fruit Vinegar
Like the idea of DIY fruit vinegar? Be sure to check out my e-book “How to Create and Use Traditional Fruit Vinegar!” With over 60 pages of information, it’ll leave you feeling confident and empowered as you create vinegar from homegrown or foraged fruits!
I also share my favorite recipes, natural remedies, and kitchen tips for putting homemade fruit vinegar to use. If you want it, you can get it here!
Let me close by saying there is nothing more gratifying to the independent soul than taking home-grown fruit and turning it into something special, without relying on purchased culture and bacteria starters!
More Probiotic Fermented Foods
Looking for more ways to keep your crock bubbling?
- Sima (Finnish Fermented Lemonade)
- Fermented Strawberries with Honey & Whey
- Lacto-Fermented Pickles
- 100% Rye Sourdough Starter
- How to Make Sauerkraut