How to make vinegar from Apples

It is very easy to turn apples into vinegar - turning them into cider first takes rather more skill! For vinegar you don't even need to press the apples first - you can roughly chop them and let them soften naturally!

Apple vinegar is usually called cider vinegar or Apple cider vinegar. However the cider part of the process is not strictly necessary so apple vinegar is more correct. Historically vinegar was alcoholic brewing that has gone wrong. If you are aiming for vinegar rather than cider the process is extremely easy!

Understanding the ferment

There are essentially three main processes by which apples rot: mould, yeast and bacteria. If you do treat the apples correctly one or other is likely to occur. However there are several other less common organisms that can, if you are unlucky, ruin the process. See Andrew Lea's Science of Cider-making for more information.

Moulds
Moulds grow on air surfaces - the mould spreads over the surface and its 'roots' (hyphae - as mould is a fungus) penetrate a limited distance downwards. If there are no air bubbles in the mash you are making, moulds cannot thrive except on the surface, where they are easily controlled or removed.
Yeast
Yeasts are closely related to moulds but are different. Yeast decomposes sugars into alcohol, releasing CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the process, so they are anaerobic - they do not need air. In fact if air is present the yeasts are likely to be out-competed by the bacteria. Unlike moulds, yeasts grow best in liquid. In a large, lidded fermenting vessel the liquid surface will be covered by a layer of carbon dioxide which is heavier than air and is released by the yeast, so yeast fermentation to alcohol will take place.
Bacteria
The bacteria we are interested in are those of the genus acetobacter. These ferment sugars and alcohol into acetic acid - which is vinegar. They require oxygen to do this, so they require dissolved oxygen from the air, but not air surfaces, although, as they need oxygen, bacteria growth will be greatest at the liquid surface. So for vinegar we need small vessels, open to the air and not well lidded to allow free air circulation.

Moulds, yeasts and bacteria are all naturally present in the air and on the fruit so if you control the rotting fermentation process correctly the right process will dominate.

The process

Apple vinegar brewed from wild apples
Apple vinegar brewed from wild apples
First: select your apples. The taste of the product will depend on the taste of the apples. The best vinegar we have tasted came from a wild apple tree: the apples were small, hard, dry and not good eating but they had incredible flavour. So try tasting wild apples - sometimes you may be surprised! Many eating apple varieties will make fine vinegar - see the jar in the photo.

Second step: Don't use many brown, mouldy apples - most of the surface browning you get on apples is caused by mould and this can be distasteful, so too much will impair the vinegar. Cut, mince, crush or otherwise mangle the good apples: we aren't trying to extract the juice at this stage - although you can do that is you wish (and have a press) - but we do want the maximum surface for the fermentation to work on. The apple pieces don't have to be very small - slicing the apples is adequate.

Put the treated apples into containers - you need ones that you can cover with a cloth, to exclude flies and such while allowing the air access. The better the air access, the faster can the bacteria work, so shallow, wide jars or other containers are best. A bucket is fine.

If the apples aren't very juicy, cover with water. This will exclude air bubbles - most moulds do not thrive under water.

If the apples are not very sweet, or you have added significant water,add some sugar. If you add too much you will simply get very strong vinegar. If the apples don't contain enough sugar then the vinegar will be weak.

If you have some yeast, add a little: dried bakers yeast is fine. If you don't have yeast - the apples already have natural, wild yeast on their skins. A little extra simply speeds things up! Yeast isn't vital to the process anyway - the bacteria can turn sugar straight to vinegar. Yeast probably works faster in softening the apple pieces.

You can also, if you have access to it, add some mother of vinegar. Again - the required bacteria are everywhere and you cannot exclude them, so extra mother is not a must!

Cover the container of apple pieces with the cloth and leave. The apple pieces will slowly soften as the yeast works. As they soften you can use a hand blender, potato masher or other method to mash the mixture. Or, if you have a fruit press you can use that as soon as the pieces are soft enough.

After a few weeks you should have a wet mash which may even have a white, jelly-like mass on the top. This jelly is the natural mother of vinegar and it in unlike mould.

You can now a cloth to squeeze as much liquid out of the mash as possible. Taste will tell you how far the vinegar process has proceeded.

Bottle the liquid - but in bottles that you can leave open to the air, covering with suitable cloth.

Apple vinegar showing mother
Apple vinegar showing mother
As the process proceeds you will find a rubbery, gelatinous film forming on the surface as you can see in the picture. This is the mother - it can grow quite thick if undisturbed for long enough. Beneath this is the vinegar and most of the sediment should settle over time. But the sediment is not a problem - just call the liquid 'cloudy vinegar'! The photo shows nearly finished vinegar.

Let me know how it turns out!

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Written by Richard Torrens.
First published Saturday the 2nd of December, 2017
Last modified: November 02 2018 13:01:08.
© 2017 - 2018 Richard Torrens.