Cooking with apples often means a lot of apple peels find their way into the compost pile. Apple scrap vinegar is a way to get one more use out of something that would otherwise go to waste.
Make no mistake, homemade apple scrap vinegar isn’t real apple cider vinegar by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still tasty.
When we had animals on our homestead, they always made neat work of the apple peels. Our angora rabbits had a particular fondness for them, and I’d sometimes find myself baking apple shortbread bars because the little guys really needed more apple scraps this week. Both sides were pretty happy with that arrangement.
Now that we’re raising two-legged kids instead of the four-legged variety, the apple scraps mostly feed our compost. It’s such a shame when they still have so much apple-y goodness left to give.
Though the scraps don’t have nearly as much sugar as the raw apple cider we press in the fall, they still have plenty of flavor. Add in a bit of extra sugar to feed the happy little vinegar culture, and you’ve got homemade apple-flavored vinegar.
Is it true “apple cider vinegar?” Nope. To make apple cider vinegar you need apple cider, but the process is very similar.
If you want to make true apple cider vinegar start with pure raw apple cider without any preservatives. Let it ferment into hard cider on the counter, and then leave it a bit longer covered with a towel and it’ll turn from alcohol to vinegar.
If you want to speed up the process you can add a bit of raw cider vinegar with the mother to culture the alcohol into vinegar, but that’s not strictly necessary. The cultures are present in the air, and they’re the bane of hard cider makers that go to great lengths to prevent their homebrew cider from turning into vinegar.
Apple scraps require a bit more love and attention to turn into vinegar, but given that they’re going to the compost anyway, it’s basically free.
How to Make Apple Scrap Vinegar
Apple scrap vinegar starts with apple scraps. Obviously, anything on the outside of the apple will end up in the vinegar, so be sure to wash the apples well before you peel them, and use organic apples if at all possible.
Take the apple peels and cores and pack them into a mason jar. I’ve found that a single heaping apple pie yields about one half gallon mason jar full of apple peels. Be sure to leave an inch or two at the top of the jar as headspace.
Dissolve a few tablespoons of sugar in a bit of water and pour the water over the apple peels. I use somewhere between 2 and 4 tablespoons of sugar per half-gallon jar of apple scraps. More sugar means more fermentable sugars, which will result in a stronger vinegar.
That only works to a point, and I wouldn’t use more than about 1/2 a cup of sugar to a half gallon. I’ve tried it without the added sugar and there’s just not enough sugar in the scraps and it’s always spoiled instead of fermenting properly.
Even though you are adding sugar, that’s all going to feed the beneficial bacteria and very little (if any) will be left at the end of the vinegar-making process. If it makes you feel better, use a natural sugar like honey, but keep in mind that it’s harder for the bacteria to digest and it’ll take longer to make the vinegar that way.
If you want a bit of extra insurance, add in a tablespoon or two of raw apple cider vinegar with the mother culture in it to help jump-start the ferment. This isn’t absolutely necessary since the cultures are present in the air, but it will yield more consistent results.
Once you’ve added sugar water to completely cover the apples, it’s important that the peels are weighed down so that they stay below the water line. This is very important, and any peels above the water line will mold. If you don’t use a fermentation weight of some kind you might as well just throw the whole mess away now and save your kitchen a stinky mess.
I’m using a glass fermentation weight from Mason Tops which is nice and sturdy, but any glass fermentation weight will work well. In a pinch, you could use a very small plate or ramekin that fits inside the jar.
Cover the jar with a bit of cloth and secure it with a rubber band. The top needs to be open to the air, but that’s an invitation for fruit flies. A cloth napkin attached tightly around the top with a rubber band or even screwed on with a mason jar ring (lid portion removed) will keep the fruit flies out, but still allow your ferment to breathe.
Why not use a fermentation water lock like you do when making other ferments? When you’re brewing, a water lock is designed to keep outside bacteria, mostly the acetic acid bacteria that make vinegar, out of the ferment. Since we’re making vinegar, it’s important to let those little beasties have access to our ferment.
After about a week, you’ll begin to see a continuous stream of bubbles rising up through the apple scraps. The peels naturally have yeast on them, and those yeast are busy converting the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
At this point, all the apple scrap vinegar needs is time. Allow the mixture to ferment for 3 to 6 weeks until it’s reached “done” according to your tastes. At 3 weeks the vinegar will be mild, but tart.
Give it more time and the acetic acid bacteria will keep working and it’ll become much stronger. If you’ve added a considerable amount of sugar at the start, it’s best to give it extra time to convert all that sugar into alcohol and then vinegar.
Over time you’ll notice the scraps begin to brown in the jar, and the clear water will slowly turn a light brown cider vinegar color. That’s all normal and expected.
If you take off the cloth that’s strapped on the top of the jar keeping fruit flies out, you’ll notice a floating mass on the top of the liquid above the fermentation weight. Congratulations! You have grown a full vinegar “mother.”
Vinegar forms a colony of bacteria that floats in a cellulose matrix at the top of a liquid. If you’ve ever made kombucha, it looks a bit similar to a kombucha mother as they’re closely related bacteria. When you see the “mother” floating at the top, that’s a sign of success.
Periodically check in with your vinegar to make sure that the mother is the only culture forming at the top, and that there’s no mold of any sort. With a fermentation weight this is much less of a concern, but if there are any tiny bits of mold scoop it off and make sure that the apple stay submerged.
Once the ferment is finished, strain the apple vinegar through a fine-mesh strainer and cap it up. Since it’s still a raw vinegar, it will continue to get stronger with age, but unless you test it there’s no way to know how it compares to store-bought vinegar in terms of acidity.
Keep in mind that this homemade vinegar will have a variable acidity level and should not be used for canning. Most “safe” canning recipes require vinegar that’s been standardized to 5% acidity per the National Center for Food Preservation. Homemade vinegar could be weaker, which may not produce a preserve that’s acidic enough to safely can.
Store the filtered apple scrap vinegar at room temperature, and like any vinegar, it should keep indefinitely.