The name vinegar comes from the French vin aigre, which means sour wine, so you might think vinegar comes from wine or grapes, but you would be wrong. As well as grapes, vinegar can be made from any fruit or from any sugars, with corn, apples and rice being the most commonly used.
Many rumors abound as to whether vinegar is safe or not, but in order to understand whether vinegar is a threat to those who are gluten sensitive, it’s important to understand how vinegar is made.
The most common method of large-scale vinegar production is called the generator method. Two distinct processes are involved in vinegar production: fermentation and distillation. First comes the fermentation process, wherein the base material, e.g. corn or rice, is left to ferment with yeast to yield a dilute solution of alcohol. The yeast and other substances are removed by sedimentation, then harmless bacteria called acetobacter are added to the liquid which converts it into acetic acid, better known as vinegar. Next, comes the distillation process whereby the acetic acid is diluted with water, poured into a boiler and heated to boiling point. When the acetic acid begins to boil, the vapor rises and is collected in a condenser. When it cools it becomes liquid again and is bottled as distilled vinegar.
Due to the boiling, vaporization and condensation process that there is no possibility for gluten or gluten peptides to contaminate the vinegar, so unadulterated distilled vinegar is perfectly safe for gluten sensitive people to drink. Wine vinegars (sherry, red wine and white wine vinegar) and balsamic vinegars derived from grapes, although produced by a different method, are also safe. Although, it’s always a good idea to check labels in case some kind of gluten-containing flavoring has been added after distillation (some cheaper balsamic vinegar brands can contain gluten so be sure to check the label).
The main type of vinegar that is likely to cause problems is malt vinegar. Malt vinegar is usually made from barley malt and is not a distilled vinegar. Therefore malt vinegar is a must to avoid for celiacs. Some rice wine vinegars, although made from fermented rice, can contain malt in some brands so be sure to check the label.
One type of vinegar which could actually be of positive benefit to celiacs is apple cider vinegar (ACV). ACV can be used to soothe your digestive system if you have accidentally ingested some gluten. Buy the raw, organic, unpasteurized version that still has the “mother”, which is a cloudy film, floating in it. The mother contains healthy bacteria, enzymes and nutrients. Apple cider vinegar has been used for thousands of years to treat many types of disorders. Add a couple of teaspoons to a glass of water, with a little organic honey to taste and sip it throughout the day. Great for mealtimes if you suffer from indigestion or after eating a large meal.