Vinegar Cocktails + the Wonders of Fermentation
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the new, hip way to health is drinking. And by drinking, we mean consuming beverages borne of, well, slime.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and Madonna have embraced it for years, and now drinking vinegar is joining the bottle lineup in a curious place: behind the most happening bars. Clued-in bartenders everywhere from New York to Portland to the Bay Area have “shrubs” — as these homemade concoctions are more appetizingly known — tucked into their cocktail armories, while in London there’s a hostelry that prefers to serve the fermented liquids neat.
Drinking vinegars have a history stretching back to Hippocrates, thanks to the perceived health benefits. Like fermented foods such as kimchi, the liquid equivalents are partially digested by fermentation and rich in gut-cleansing probiotics.
Nutritionist Christine Bailey says all fermented liquids have health benefits, and vinegar has more than most.
Cocktail drinkers probably don’t care about this stuff, but the new Raw Duck restaurant in London is positively evangelical about why we should embrace the likes of unpasteurized cider vinegar left for three days to develop live cultures so that it’s creamy as well as acidic when served.
Owner Rory McCoy says he drinks a vinegar every day for his health, even though his homemade ferments were described by one food writer as “smelling like farts” and needing daily “burping” to prevent them from exploding. And co-owner Clare Lattin acknowledges that these unusual drinks they proudly serve are indeed “alive.”
As well as distilling apple cider, raspberries and other fruits into ferments, the duo serves celeb favorite kombucha, a fermented tea made from a slimy bacteria starter that resembles a human organ. It may sound disgusting, but it’s only a few steps away from more socially acceptable fermented drinks like wine (fermented grape juice), beer (fermented grains) and yogurt (fermented milk). Even bread is a fermented food, which is why sourdough starter has to be fed regularly with flour to keep it alive, and why scoby (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) — the precursor of kombucha — has to be fed with sugar.
But is it really worth holding your nose and downing a drink born from a ball of slime? Nutritionist Christine Bailey says all fermented liquids have health benefits, and vinegar has more than most: “It lowers the blood sugar response, improving glucose tolerance, and will also help you feel full after a meal. Balsamic vinegar has also been shown to protect the body against damage caused by oxidized cholesterol.”
In addition, says Bailey, apple cider vinegar with a “mother” — i.e., allowed to ferment — contains digestive enzymes and preserves the malic acid, which helps the body rid itself of toxins. “People often lack digestive enzymes, and over 40 their level of stomach acid falls, leaving them with that heavy feeling of food lying on their stomach.” So that explains the joke about needing to eat dinner at 5:30.