Vinegar is a staple of Filipino cuisine. It is both a condiment, like when it is used as dipping sauce, and an ingredient for dishes like adobo and paksiw.
Many of us get our vinegar from the supermarket or sari-sari store. This is kind of a shame since many provinces have their own special type of heirloom vinegar.
While there are a few businesses that specialize in local vinegars, they are few and far between. Angeles City, Pampanga-based chef Bong Sagmit, Executive Chef for Century Hotel and co-owner of Pigs & Pints, a restaurant that serves “globally inspired food complemented with local ingredients” has taken it upon himself to ferment his own vinegar.
This way, he has control of ingredients, fermentation process, and flavor. Small-batch vinegars also tend to have deeper, more complex flavors than their industrially-made counterparts.
Benefits of making your own vinegar
The chef says that his interest in fermenting his own vinegar started as a “pursuit of new nuances of flavor profiles,” combined with a fervour for “sustainability (and the) preservation of seasonal crops.”
Vinegar is made through the process of fermentation that turns carbohydrates (in this case, sugar) to alcohol, then to acetic acid. This is why poor quality or improperly stored wine can turn into vinegar. That said, though some vinegars are made with acetic acid, not all all acetic acids are vinegars.
The restaurant’s vinegar-making endeavour started as a way to utilise fruit peel. Fruit-based vinegars ferment with the help of wild yeast, which can naturally be found in the fruits or fruit peel themselves.
“We started making vinegars to sustain our restaurant requirements from our left over fruits and peelings. We did not want to waste anything so we researched on how to save our trash,” Sagmit says.
They make a variety of vinegar from santol, pineapple, and banana, which are used in the restaurant on a daily basis. He cites the many reasons he prefers his own brew to store-bought ones: “Unique flavors, more rich, more nostalgic profiles. And we know whats in the vinegar.”
Vinegar can be safe to make at home. One should always make sure that the peel used are thoroughly washed and that all materials used to make the vinegar are clean and sterilized.
Never use metal or aluminium containers to make or store vinegar, whether store-bought or homemade, as these will corrode. Instead, use glass or plastic containers to make or store vinegar.
Chef Bong Sagmit’s santol vinegar recipe
This basic vinegar recipe uses santol, which was in season at the time of the interview.
You will need:
1kg of santol chopped roughly
3ltrs of water
500grms of brown sugar
A sterile non-reactive plastic or glass container.
Mix all ingredients in the container and cover it with cheese cloth, sealed tightly, for 3-6 months, stirring twice a month.
Taste the vinegar to see if it’s ready. Once it smells and tastes like strong vinegar, it’s ready for use. Strain it to remove impurities, transfer into bottles, seal and store in a cool dark place in between uses.
“When it gives off a sour smell, then you can taste it,” Sagmit says. “The longer you let it ferment, the deeper the taste gets.”
Vinegar photos from Chef Bong Sagmit