The chemical and organoleptic properties of vinegars are a function of the starting material and the fermentation method. Acetic acid, the volatile organic acid that identifies the product as vinegar, is responsible for the tart flavor and pungent, biting odor of vinegars. However, acetic acid should not be considered synonymous with vinegar. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that diluted acetic acid is not vinegar and should not be added to food products customarily expected to contain vinegar. Other constituents of vinegar include vitamins, mineral salts, amino acids, polyphenolic compounds (eg, galic acid, catechin, caffeic acid, ferulic acid), and nonvolatile organic acids (eg, tartaric, citric, malic, lactic).
In the United States, vinegar products must contain a minimum of 4% acidity.European countries have regional standards for vinegar produced or sold in the area. White distilled vinegars are generally 4% to 7% acetic acid whereas cider and wine vinegars are 5% to 6% acetic acid. Specialty vinegars are grouped as herbal or fruit vinegars. Herbal vinegars consist of wine vinegars or white distilled vinegars, which may be seasoned with garlic, basil, tarragon, cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg. Fruit vinegars are wine and white vinegars sweetened with fruit or fruit juice to produce a characteristic sweet-sour taste. Traditional vinegars are produced from regional foods according to well-established customs. The balsamic vinegar of Modena, Italy, is made from the local white Trebbiano grapes, which are harvested as late as possible, fermented slowly, and concentrated by aging in casks of various woods. Traditional rice wine vinegars are produced in Asia, coconut and cane vinegars are common in India and the Philippines, and date vinegars are popular in the Middle East.