Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food. Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie. In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts. Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you. My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined. Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you. You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try. Let’s be bold and eat good food!
I’ve been curious about the concept of drinking vinegar since I first spotted a bottle last year. Given that it’s nearly July, it clearly took me a while to get around to actually trying some. If you all only knew how many random things I have in my head that I want to try at any given time (things to cook, eat, write, learn, do, read about, etc), you’d understand the delay.
Long delay aside, this week was the week for drinking vinegars.
Let’s get crazy.
Because, honestly, drinking vinegars are a bit crazy if you ask me. I love vinegar, but the concept of sipping on the stuff, as opposed to enjoying it on my vegetables or in a sauce, seems a bit mad.
The practice of drinking vinegar goes way back. There are many reported health benefits of vinegar, including detoxification, better digestion, and the delivery of microbial properties to ward off illness, so you can see the potential allure. Now, many folks choose to simply drink straight apple cider vinegar as part of their regular routine, but the trend of late in the foodie and bar scene has been to experience specially made and flavored drinking vinegars, also called shrubs. Such drinking vinegars can be tossed back on their own, added to other beverages to make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, or used to dress a salad, for instance.
For my little foray into this food scene, I tested four distinct flavors of drinking vinegar from two different makers.
Bragg makes several varieties that are affordable and fairly easy to find. I decided to pick up apple-cinnamon, apple cider vinegar and honey, and concord grape-acai. Then, I splurged on a fancy, artisanal bottle of raspberry drinking vinegar made locally by (now nationally famous) chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok.
First up: a simple sampling. I wanted to taste each one on its own accord, without influence of other flavors or ingredients. I’ve got to say, it was more of a pleasant experience than I originally thought it might be. I was worried the flavors would be too harsh and acidic, but enjoyed the sampling more than I had anticipated. Here are my thoughts on each flavor:
- Apple-Cinnamon – I found this one to be mellow and smooth and very far from what traditional vinegar tastes like. My instant thought with this one was: “I don’t really want to drink this, but I totally want to bake with it.”
- Apple Cider & Honey – The honey flavor in this was strong and hit me from the second the vinegar touched my tongue. If you’re a fan of honey, jump on this one. This also wasn’t one I really wanted to drink alone, but again baking comes to mind (maybe I just really need some muffins right now). As far as drinking though, I think this would be quite nice for a sore throat – you know the whole honey thing? Seems appropriate to me for some reason.
- Concord Grape-Acai – This was tasty! Totally reminiscent of grape juice or long lost memories of grape kool-aid (yep, I drank that as a kid). The flavor was strong and sweet, but not overpowering. My mind went instantly to a tumbler filled with ice, this vinegar, seltzer water and dry gin or vodka. Maybe with a squeeze of lemon. Modern gin and juice, anyone?
- Raspberry – Sharp, tart, thick on the tongue, undercut with a sweetness. I think this is my favorite. I could down this alone (though in small amounts – it is strong) or dress some spinach with it. And I most definitely could turn this into a terrific mixed drink. I bet it would not only taste fantastic, but would be a beautiful cocktail to sip on a warm night.
Next, I tried dressing my nightly salad with a few splashes of the apple cider & honey flavor. I also drizzled a small amount of hazelnut oil on this salad, with (of course) salt and pepper. I really loved this combination. I was pleased by the contrast of the nuttiness from the hazelnut oil with the slight sweet, yet tart, flavor brought by the vinegar. Not bad. Not bad at all. I will say my dining companion used olive oil combined with the concord grape-acai vinegar and felt the vinegar got a bit lost, so you may need to play around with the ratios of these ingredients to get it right for you.
Notes & Final Thoughts:
Serving Suggestions: I definitely think mixed drinks are a way to go here and there are infinite combinations that could be made (for some inspiration, check out this article). I also suspect that these flavors would be great in sauces and in baking. I’m thinking of using the apple cinnamon when making muffins or an apple spice cake, for instance. And, the raspberry seems to be screaming to be heated into a sauce (maybe with some lemon juice or rich sweetener, like dates) for pouring over a (raw, vegan) cheesecake or (non-dairy) ice cream. I’m totally intrigued by the possibilities.
Lessons Learned: This is a simple one for me this week: Don’t judge a book by its cover, or more accurately, don’t judge an ingredient by its name. Just the word vinegar sounds tart, maybe sour, definitely acidic and sharp. But these drinking vinegars carried a whole range of complex flavors – sweet, smooth, bold, tangy. I was surprised by this week’s food adventure and was forced to think of something so commonly understood in one way as something totally new, and isn’t that what this is all about?