By Karina | May 7, 2008
We talk a lot about using vinegar as a cleaning product – in fact, the entire eco-cleaning and frugal community talk about it a lot, too. But a friend of mine tipped me off to a potential problem with vinegar – turns out that some vinegars may be made from petroleum.
When my friend told me this I was like: WHAT THE HECK THIS IS GROUNDSHAKING HORRIFYING INFORMATION. Vinegar is our magical eco-friendly cleaning solution! it just *can’t* be made from petroleum products!
So I tried to do a little research. Thing is, there isn’t very much out there. Just a lot of rumors. For example, from the Heinz Vinegar webpage:
The Only All Natural National Brand Vinegar*
Heinz® Vinegars have no additives or preservatives. Vinegar’s key ingredient is alcohol. Unlike many budget brand vinegars which derive their alcohol from petroleum, Heinz® Vinegars are the only national brand to use only sun ripened corn or crisp, juicy apples and water.
This page has a very good description of how vinegar is made, and it refers simply to an alcohol being fermented with vinegar bacteria.
The transformation of wine or fruit juice to vinegar is a chemical process in which ethyl alcohol undergoes partial oxidation that results in the formation of acetaldehyde. In the third stage, the acetaldehyde is converted into acetic acid. The chemical reaction is as follows: CH3CH2OH=2HCH3CHO=CH3COOH.
The global demand of acetic acid is around 6.5 million tonnes per year (Mt/a), of which approximately 1.5 Mt/a is met by recycling; the remainder is manufactured from petrochemical feedstocks or from biological sources.
but then it also says this:
Acetic acid is produced both synthetically and by bacterial fermentation. Today, the biological route accounts for only about 10% of world production, but it remains important for vinegar production, as the world food purity laws stipulate that vinegar used in foods must be of biological origin. About 75% of acetic acid made for use in the chemical industry is made by methanol carbonylation
So, who do I believe? Heinz, who has a stake in being the purest and most food-based vinegar? Or Wikipedia, which could be edited by anyone, including the Budget Vinegar Czar desperate to prop up the image his product?
Luckily the FDA is on the case and I found this interesting paper discussing if synthetic alcohol (aka, that derived from petroleum products) can be used in vinegar:
Questions have been raised as to whether we can or should continue to consider synthetic alcohol unsuitable for food use. In order to secure more information, we wrote to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division, Internal Revenue Service. Their reply included the following paragraphs:
“Presently, we authorize the manufacture of vinegar from ethyl alcohol synthesized from natural gas or petroleum derivatives. It is our opinion that most of the distilled spirits used in the production of vinegar are derived from natural gas and petroleum…
“When alcohol is used in the production of beverage products, our regulations require that the source of the alcohol be shown on the label except for cordials and liqueurs. Incidentally, I might add that most of the alcohol used in the production of medicinal preparations and flavors is synthetic.”
and concludes with
Synthetic ethyl alcohol may be used as a food ingredient or in the manufacturing of vinegar or other chemicals for food use, within limitations imposed by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Alcohol Administration Act, and regulations promulgated under these acts.
So it’s true! Check your vinegar labels!
I went to the grocery store and did the following research for my fellow Tiny Choosers:
Stop and Shop store brand vinegar:
Have you checked your vinegar? Did you even imagine that this could be true?
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