Pinoy Vinegar

Today’s art journal entry is about locally-made vinegar. I got curious about this when I read “Pigafetta’s Philippine Picnic” by Felice Sta. Maria which describes locals offering alcoholic drinks and vinegar and “Tikim” by Doreen Fernandez which mentions locally-made vinegars in several of her essays. Vinegar in the Philippines are primarily made from coconut (sukang tuba, pinakurat), nipa palm (sukang Paombong), and sugar cane (sukang Iloko). Vinegar is made by fermenting juices from sources like coconut et al so that they become alcoholic (producing ethanol), then exposed to oxygen and the acetobacter bacteria and fermenting it further to produce acetic acid. Water is added to acetic acid to produce vinegar. Other spices may also be added. In the case of sukang Iloco, molasses is added to sweeten it. It’s a shame that vinegar-making has become a dying industry in the Philippines. Many vendors just opt to skip the fermentation process and use synthetic acetic acid. Not only does synthetic acetic acid-based vinegar taste different, they’re also unhealthy in the long run because it’s made of petroleum by-products.

We were recently able to try several flavors of naturally-fermented vinegar called Basimatsi (suka with bawang, sibuyas, kamatis, sili). I particularly enjoyed their version of hot sauce, which is Labuyo Cerveza. It has local siling labuyo fermented in vinegar. I like that it doesn’t feel like physical punishment when you use it on food or in dipping sauce. While store-bought hot sauce is so spicy that it’s just painful, Labuyo Cerveza has a pleasant level of spiciness that dissipates into heat that highlights the flavor of vinegar and peppers. It reminds me of other homemade hot sauces that I’ve tried  before where the sauce is not so painfully spicy so that you can detect the nuances in taste of the peppers and other spices used.

Naturally-fermented vinegar doesn’t taste so caustic. It accentuates other flavors instead of overpowering it with caustic sourness. It’s hard to find authentic, naturally-fermented vinegar these days, especially those that are specific to certain provinces. It’s worth the effort trying to find them, though.