The term "vinegar" originates from the French "vin" (wine) and "aigre" (sour). Vinegar probably was discovered about 10 000 years ago, when a barrel of wine developed a crack. The wine was exposed to the air, went stale' (fermented), and turned to vinegar. The fact is if you leave out a bottle of unfinished wine, in a slightly warm room, unstoppered, it will in about a week, turn to vinegar, when acetic acid is produced through the action of aerobic bacteria on the alcohol in the wine, in the presence of oxygen.
Traditionally, vinegars were made by fermenting wine, fruit juices or grains and grain extracts like rice or malt. These naturally fermented vinegars are mellower and have an interesting flavour profile from the inherent charateristics of the ingredients from which they were fermented. Synthetic vinegar (synthetic acetic acid diluted with water) which is a relatively recent creation, is extremely harsh and has little flavour or aroma apart from its overwhelmingly abrasive acidity. It should be avoided by those with sensitive or weak stomachs as it can erode the protective lining of the stomach.
Though vinegar is used in modern times mainly for preserving and flavouring food, in the past, it was also considered medicinal. Hippocrates himself prescribed it as medicine and during outbreaks of the plague, people washed with herbal or floral infused vinegar, in the belief that they would be protected from the ravages of the deadly disease. Perhaps the most well known story regarding the plagues is the one about the the four thieves who robbed the dead victims of the Black Plague, and never contracted the disease. They attributed their resistance to the use of a special vinegar concocted by one of them, a herbalist. When they were caught and forced to work as undertakers during the Bubonic Plague, they survived supposedly because of the following herbal vinegar.
* Vinegar of the Four Thieves
2 tablespoons Rosemary
2 tablespoons Peppermint
2 tablespoons Wormwood
2 tablespoons Sage
2 tablespoons Lavender
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped garlic
2 quarts of apple cider vinegar
Combine 12 tablespoons of the premixed herbs and 2 quarts of vinegar in a sealed glass jar, and steep in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks or so, shaking daily. Then, strain out the used herbs, and retain the herbal liquid mixture.
Add several cloves of crushed garlic, and close lid. Let soak for three days, and strain out the garlic fiber and discard.
This vinegar is said to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is recommended as an insect repellant.
* Recipe from the Bulk Herb Store.