sharp vinegar

AlexanderIII

Senior Member
Russian
Dear all,
this is from the book Justinian by Harry Turtledove.

The Goths of Doros had their own way of preparing fish, though, mixing it with cabbage half-pickled in sharp vinegar.

It looks like sharp vinegar is made by fermenting distilled alcohol however I am not sure this condition is sufficient to call the vinegar sharp. Could you help out please?
 
  • Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Sharp is a description of the taste or strength of vinegar, not a kind of vinegar.

    All vinegar can be made from alcohol including wine and cider. Did the Goths distil hard liquor at all?

    I expect this is not intended as a precise recipe but rather just a description of the food.

    Also since this is a historical novel rather than a history book, I would expect that calling the vinegar sharp is relates to a characters experience eating the food
     

    AlexanderIII

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I see. Thank you, Ponyprof.
    Early evidence of distillation was found on Akkadian tablets dated circa 1200 BC describing perfumery operations. The novel is set in VII-VIII centuries AD.
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Well, the Goths were a long ways away from the Middle East and though they are much later they have a less developed material culture and the time period of 7th to 8th century BC is the European dark ages after the fall of Rome. Much technology was lost in Europe in the gap between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance and we cannot assume any direct transmission or survival of culture or technology. Indeed it isn't until the 1700s that European technology definitively surpasses the accomplishments of Rome.

    I only asked because the European tribes definitely had forms of beer, wine, cider, mead, all fermented alcoholic drinks that are made without distillation and that can be used as a base for vinegar. Well, wine and cider are used for vinegar today, maybe beer wouldn't work.

    It's not necessary to have distilled high proof alcohol like vodka to make useful vinegar. Indeed the very word vinegar has a relation to vin as in vinyard, wineyard. Vin is modern French for wine. And indeed wine has a tendency to turn towards vinegar under poor storage conditions.

    Anyhow just because something was possible in the peak ancient Middle Eastern cultures , or indeed in ancient Rome or Egypt or Greece, is no guarantee that the technology was present in the European and British tribes of the Dark Ages. Many were entirely oral cultures. They might have learned some technology from the Roman occupation but how much would be retained several centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Sharp vinegar probably just describes vinegar with a high acidity (a high concentration of acetic acid). Vinegar can be made from many things but orginally it was fruit juice, e.g., grapes, that was fermented beyond the wine stage (accidentally or deliberately) - this gave rise to the name - and can have quite high acidity. Home-made vinegar may be quite weak (and not so "sharp") and may not completely preserve the item being pickled. Making highly concentrated acetic acid from distilled alcohol is a newer process but is not required for making high acidity/sharp vinegar.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    fermenting distilled alcohol
    I suspect that "sharp vinegar" is another terms for "spirit vinegar":
    The term spirit vinegar is sometimes reserved for the stronger variety (5% to 21% acetic acid) made from sugar cane or from chemically produced acetic acid. To be called "Spirit Vinegar", the product must come from an agricultural source and must be made by "double fermentation". The first fermentation is sugar to alcohol and the second alcohol to acetic acid. Product made from synthetically produced acetic acid cannot be called "vinegar" in the UK, where the term allowed is "non-brewed condiment".
    Vinegar - Wikipedia
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I don't know one way or the the other. My point was that the OPs link to distillation of perfume in Ancient Syria in 1000 BC is no proof either way that Goth tribes in 700 AD knew the technology or used it for making beverage alcohol. Technological knowledge does not spread in a linear fashion especially during the fall of empires.

    The Goths might or might not have distilled alcohol. I have no idea, though a scholar of the early medieval world of Europe likely would.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    But unlikely to have required it for the pickling process. Fermentation of regular alcohol-containing liquids (similar to beer or wine, i.e., not distilled) will routinely get to 10-14% acetic acid, and is diluted to make the final product - "according to taste":)
    From the link above
    4% acidity This is the minimum legal acidity level for vinegar in almost all countries. Most bargain and discount vinegar brands now are 4%. They don’t advertise this in large print so check the label. Only use for basic cooking and salad dressings. Do not use for canning. Vinegar this weak is less effective at cleaning as well.
    5% acidity The standard acidity range for most vinegars. Good for use in canning if you are using good canning practices. Also can be used for any variety of cooking and most types of cleaning. Too weak to use for weed killer except in large amounts.
    6-7% acidity Most wine and balsamic vinegars fall in this range. Balsamic vinegar of Modena is at least 6%. Can be used in any way from cooking to canning. Likely too expensive for cleaning. This is the typical upper range for food vinegar.
    10% This is a high strength vinegar. Be careful consuming it as it is very acidic and can cause burns. Also wear gloves (latex or nitrile, not cloth) when handling since it can irritate your skin (especially cuts) and cause eye burning.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    If the Goths went to the trouble of distilling alcohol, I somehow doubt they would waste the product on pickling fish when they could more easily obtain suitable vinegar from such things as fermented grape or vegetable juices. I recall from my home-wine-making days how swiftly the vinegar fly appears around the bubble trap of a fermentation vessel. It's really easy to make vinegar. :(
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I found an early Byzantine-era recipe for sharp vinegar here (Geoponika, page 262) but it hasn't enlightened me very much: " very sharp and pleasant" sugests to me that the acidic taste was bright, with no nasty, " gone off" overtones reminiscent of nail-polish remover (like the vinegar I tried to make once from left-over red wine and ended up throwing away):
    Geōponika

    The Goths had their own special way of preparing fish, but I'm assuming that "sharp vinegar" (as opposed to "sweet vinegar") was a common means of preservation not restricted to the Goths.
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    It's really easy to make vinegar. :(
    Yes. I have some red wine vinegar which is the product of a home-made red wine somebody kindly gave me (but which I didn't like, so it just sat there...). I have to be honest, I use it to clean out my dishwasher.:D

    In any case, I don't think 'sharp' is necessarily negative. Some prefer a sharp-tasting vinegar. When I used to pickle onions I much preferred to use a sharp vinegar but now, when I pickle aubergines Italian-style, I tend to use a sweeter vinegar.
     
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