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FIGURE 1 - Plan of the equipment operating with surface process (Trickling Process)

A grate; B porous material; C circulating pump; D squirt gun; E water refrigerant; F condenser

FIGURE 2 – Plan of the equipment for the production of vinegar with submerged culture
(Acetator Frings)

A Wine tank; B Acetator; C Vinegar tank

a aerator, b defoamer, c cooler, d automatic detector of alcool degree.

FIGURE 3 - Unstructed sheet proposed for the sensory analysis of red and white vinegars.

The descriptors between brackets refer to the white vinegar.


1) Clarity

2) Colour intensity

3) Red (Straw yellow)

4) Yellow (Gold yellow)

5) Brick red (Amber yellow)

6) Odour intensity

7) Odour pungency

8) No odour defects
9) Floral note

10) Fruity

11) Vinous Character (Vegetative odour)

12) Balance of odour

13) Balance of taste

14) Sapidity

15) Taste persistence



Laura Dallagiovanna, Valeria Mazzoleni

Istituto di Enologia e Ingegneria alimentare, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

29100 – Piacenza (Italy)


The beneficial action of vinegar on the human body has long been known, right since it was used
not only as a food but also for medicinal and anti-contamination purposes.

Vinegar has always been used as a preserving agent for food products and at the moment it is
widely used in the industry for pickling and as an ingredient in various sauces and dressings. The
preserving action of vinegar owes its success to the fact that the acetic acid it contains, if at a
level of at least 6% (v/v), stops microbic alterations in so much as that its undissociated molecule
is toxic for the micro organisms (particularly bacteria and yeasts).

In recent years some medical researchers have highlighted the importance of vinegar in the diet,
in that it favours the stabilisation of certain nutritional components in food. The polyphenols
contained in wine vinegar can aid, through their scavenger effect, the stabilisation of the vitamins
C and E, which fight the harmful action of free radicals deriving from biochemical action of the
In this way, like wine, vinegar is part of the Mediterranean diet, playing a protective role in this
type of diet as far as regards some chronic degenerative pathologies.

There have also been extensive descriptions of the anti-cancerous effects (in vivo and in vitro) of
many phenolic compounds present in vinegar- effects that show themselves at a gastrointestinal
level or at peripheral tissue level.

Production and Consumption

Although wine vinegar is produced and consumed all over the world, it is hard to give precise
information on the quantity produced, in that a large amount of vinegar is still fruit of
homemade production. Vinegar made from wine is produced in Europe, particularly in the
countries with a high oenological production, such as Italy, France, Spain and Greece, whilst in
other countries it is produced from alcoholic primary ingredients of a varied nature (barley malt,
rice malt, cider, ethyl alcohol…….). Italy produces about 600.000 hl of vinegar per year, the vast
majority from wine and it is the world’s leading producer of wine vinegar. Germany, Europe’s
leading vinegar producer, with a production of over 1.300.000 hl/year, mainly uses ethyl alcohol
as primary ingredient. In other countries such as China and Japan, vinegar is produced from rice.

The Italian vinegar industry is very fragmented, albeit more concentrated in the northern regions,
something that reflects the geographical distribution of food traditions.

As far as consumption is concerned, Italy is rates as one of the lowest consumers in Europe: the
annual Italian vinegar consumption is assessed to be about one litre per head (against 2 litres or
more per head in countries such as Denmark, Belgium, Germany and France) with a very slight
increasing tendency of about l % per year. The most commonly used vinegars is packed in one-
litre glass bottles, while higher quality vinegar in half-litre bottles.

However, consumer preferences have been changing recently and they are tending to go either
for quality vinegars produced from D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. wines or for aromatised vinegars.
There is also a preference toward straw vinegars (from white wine), which are considered to be
suppler than red ones (from red wine).


According to Italian legislation the term “vinegar” is reserved to the product obtained from the
acetic fermentation of wine. Currently, according to the Community Directives, the Italian
legislation also allows not only the denomination “wine vinegar” for products deriving from
wine but also the denomination “……. vinegar ” preceded by the substance of origin, for
vinegars coming from other primary ingredients (e.g. apples). By law, the vinegars must not
have an acidity level lower than 6 % (expressed in w/v of acetic acid) nor residual alcohol higher
than 1.5 vol. %.

The various types of wine vinegars are:

◇ Common Vinegar: produced from acetification of low quality or slightly altered wines or
with an alcohol degree lower than 8 vol. %. These vinegars have a very low alcohol residue (0.2-
0.3 vol.%) and an acidity of 6%.

◇ Quality vinegar: produced from sound, good quality wines, including D.O.C. or D.O.C.G.
wines. Generally these vinegars undergo a maturation process in wood and stainless steel
containers. They have a high alcohol residue (0,5-1,0 vol.%) and an acidity of around 7%.

◇ Aromatised Vinegar: produced from quality vinegar, they are infused in aromatic herbs or
spices (e.g. estragon, thyme, pepper) .

◇ Colourless Vinegar: only used for production of pickles, sauces and dressings.

◇ Special Vinegar: in this range of vinegars the most prestigious types are traditional Balsamic
Vinegars from Modena or Reggio Emilia, obtained from alcoholic and acetic fermentation of
grapes, possibly partially fermented or concentrated by direct fire.

Characteristics of wine used for vinegar production

White or red wine used for the production of vinegar may be sound wine, wine with a volatile
acidity higher than the level permitted for wines ready for the market (according to Community
Regulation the limit is 1,08 g/l of acetic acid for white wines and 1,20 g/l for red ones) and it can
be clear or slightly cloudy. In addition it must be dry, free of antimicrobial agents, not contain
any metals above limits permitted by the law and must not be particularly rich in either tannic or
phenolic substances. Before vinegar making process begins, the wine needs to be diluted with
water until it reaches the ideal degree of alcohol, which means between 7 and 9 vol. % for
common vinegars and a slightly higher level for quality vinegars.

Acetic Fermentation

The fundamental reaction of acetic fermentation, that needs the presence of acetic acid bacteria,
is as follows:

Ethanol + Oxygen Acetic Acid + Water

The oxygen required, together with the temperature, is a limitative factor of the reaction. The
acetic acid bacteria, between the genera Acetobacter and Gluconobacter, shows optimum activity
at 30°C, at a pH level slightly acid, at an alcoholic degree between 7 and 10 vol.%; they are very
sensitive to the presence of sulphur dioxide.

Production Technology
a) Acetification

The production technology exploits the aeration of wine, with the aim to optimise the speed of
acetification, which depends very strictly on the quantity of oxygen present in the wine.

A traditional method, which has recently come back into use for the production of quality
vinegars, foresees the use of a trickling process based on the use of a wood tank fitted with a
grate on the lower part and filled with porous material (wood shavings, grape stalks, corn cobs)
where the acetic acid bacteria growth (Figure 1). The wine, fed from the upper part, percolates
through the porous material and is collected, partially fermented, on the bottom of the tank. The
liquid is then recycled until the desired acidity is obtained. The tank is never completely emptied,
so that the vinegar residue can always start up a new acetification cycle. This surface process has
its drawbacks due to the fact that we have long acetification times and a marked product loss
(about 20%) – this is linked to the evaporation of volatile constituents, in particular ethanol.
Furthermore, due to the uneven distribution of chippings in the tank and the accumulation of
mucilaginous substances produced from the bacteria, the system may get clogged and it will
need to be periodically cleared and undergo costly maintenance service. The positive aspect is
that the vinegar produced is relatively clear and requires more simple stabilising operations.

A system very widely used, which dates back to the 40’s, is the submerged culture acetification,
where the bacteria are present into the liquid, thanks to a forced insufflation of air that creates a
close contact between microorganisms, wine and oxygen. With this process we get high yields
(95-98%), faster acetification and the assurance of a constant product (Figure 2). One of the
negative aspects of the system is that the product obtained is cloudy and needs to undergo more
complex stabilisation. What is more, vinegars produced in this way have inferior sensory and
chemical characteristics due to the oxidation caused by the high quantity of air introduced to
speed up production times.

Recently, in order to reduce storage costs, the industry has gone towards the production of
vinegars with a high degree of acidity by means of a two stages fermentation process, which
produces vinegars with acidities above 15 %. In the first stage we have bacteria growth and a
partial acetification. In the second stage bacteria multiplication slows down until it stops.
However, the production of acetic acid continues until the acidity desired is reached.

We still have some acetification systems in experimental phase: for example a system of
continuous acetification with the use of fermenting towers free of internal parts with forced
aeration. Faster acetifications can also be obtained by increasing the bacteria concentration in the
bioreactor: cell immobilization or cell-recycle.

b) Clarification and bottling

The vinegar produced by industrial methods is cloudy because it contains suspensions of
mucilage, cellulosic substances, protein and cells. This means we need to have a stabilization
phase in which the vinegar can be clarified and matured.
Various types of treatments are:

◇ Spontaneous clarification, which is obtained by letting the vinegar rest in tank and then
removing solid matter by mean of a racking;

◇ Mechanical clarification by filtering or centrifuging;

◇ Fining by means of adjuvants;

◇ Physical stabilisation as pasteurisation or refrigeration;

◇ Removal of metals;

◇ Decolourising with activated carbon, only for the production of colourless vinegars.

The clarification methods, the filtering systems and the fining agents are very similar to those
used in wine stabilization. In the last few years membrane filters were introduced in the vinegar
industry. These filters allow the microbial stability of the vinegar and, at the same time, a
reduction of chemical antiseptic agents.

To improve their sensory characters, the quality vinegars can undergo maturation in wood casks
for 6-8 months and then carry out further maturation period in stainless steel containers for 6-8

Bottling is the final step of the production. It is very important as in the bottle the maturation step
continues and finally ends through essentially reducing processes.

Composition of wine vinegar

Vinegar is a clear liquid. It can have a pale-yellow, golden-yellow, rose or red colour, a pungent
pleasant aroma and a hot, acidulous taste.

As concerns its composition, vinegar is similar to wine (Table 1), with a few exceptions due to
the substances formed in the acetic fermentation, like acetic acid and acetaldehyde; the aroma
and the typical pungent taste of vinegar depend largely on the presence of this acid. The
suppleness of the vinegars depends on the presence of glycerol, in quantities of between 2 to 6
g/L, which comes from the wine.

The nitrogenous fraction is represented by a group of free amino-acids, while the polyphenolic
substances (tannins, antocyanins and flavones) come from the wine and can be found in the
vinegar in quantities depending on the clarification treatments used.
Wine Vinegar tasting

Through sensory analysis we can judge the typicity and the quality of the vinegar. However,
unlike wine tasting, vinegar tasting is more problematic because the aggressive flavour of
vinegar makes hard to taste it and for the fact that it is difficult to dispose of a trained panel.

In the last few years some researchers, on the basis of the Quantitative Descriptive Analysis
principles and of the experience gained in the oenological sector, have set up a non structured
descriptive sheet (aroma wheel), as reported in Figure 3.