What is a Mother of Vinegar, and Where to Find One?

Want to make vinegar at home, but don’t know where to find a mother of vinegar? Read on!
Many vinegar recipes require only two ingredients: alcohol and a mother of vinegar (also called a vinegar scoby). Thus, the mother of vinegar (the starter culture) is a key element in the preparation of homemade vinegar.

But what is a mother of vinegar? Is it a mushroom, an algae? What is the purpose of a mother of vinegar? Is it mandatory to use one to make vinegar? Why do you need alcohol as a base? Is it the same as a kombucha scoby?

This article will answer these questions and explain how to use a mother of vinegar and where to find one.

Go straight to the section:

What Is a Mother of Vinegar?

A mother of vinegar is a gelatinous film that forms naturally on the surface of an alcohol-based liquid, such as wine or cider, when exposed to the open air for several weeks.

In the presence of oxygen, acetic acid bacteria present in the environment convert the alcohol into acetic acid, creating a film, known as the mother of vinegar, or vinegar scoby. Gradually, the liquid turns into vinegar (sour wine).

Visually, a mother of vinegar looks like a gelatinous film that takes on the colour of the liquid in which it is found. For example, a scoby formed in red wine will be reddish, while a scoby created from cider will be cream-coloured. Incidentally, the Latin name for mother of vinegar is Mycoderma aceti, which means “skin of the acid”.

Mother of vinegar

Contrary to popular belief, the mother of vinegar is neither an algae nor a fungus. Like kombucha scoby, the film is mainly made of cellulose, produced by bacteria.

The mother of vinegar contains acetic acid bacteria (ref.). These bacteria convert alcohol into acetic acid, the scientific name for vinegar! The mother of vinegar also contains yeast and other microorganisms that participate in the fermentation process.

When we talk about “mother of vinegar”, we sometimes also refer to the unpasteurized vinegar in which the film is immersed. This vinegar, rich in acetic acid bacteria, can be used as a starter culture to produce homemade vinegar (it is also sometimes called “liquid culture”).

How to Make Vinegar With a Mother of Vinegar?

To use a mother of vinegar, you place it in an alcoholic liquid that you wish to turn into vinegar.

Choosing the Alcoholic Liquid

It is possible to turn all kinds of low alcohol beverages into vinegar, such as wine, beer, cider, fruit wine, etc. However, vinegar can also be produced using strong alcohol (vodka, rum) that has been diluted.

The ideal alcohol content for making vinegar is between 6 and 8% of alcohol. Beverages with too low an alcohol content may not allow adequate fermentation to produce good quality vinegar. On the other hand, too much alcohol can inhibit the growth of bacteria and hinder the fermentation process.

Avoid liquids with preservatives (such as sulphites), as they may inhibit fermentation.

Fermentation Process

To allow vinegar fermentation to take place, a sufficient amount of scoby must be added.

The simplest way is to add 20% of scoby (liquid culture included or not) in proportion to the volume of alcohol.

Steps to start a vinegar fermentation:

  1. Measure the volume of alcohol (in ml) to be fermented.
  2. Multiply this volume by 20% to find the volume (in ml) of starter culture to be added.
  3. Add the culture to the alcohol.
  4. Cover the container with a cloth secured with a rubber band.
  5. Let it ferment for several months at room temperature and in the open air.

For example, if you have 1L (1000ml) of cider, you need to add 200ml of unpasteurized vinegar (with or without the mother) to start the fermentation.
It is important to cover the jar with a tight cotton cloth to prevent the intrusion of fruit flies, while allowing the mother of vinegar to breathe.
Note that any mother of vinegar can be used to ferment alcohol. However, the mother of vinegar can influence the quality and taste of the vinegar produced.
For example, if you have a mother of vinegar that was used to ferment beer, you can still add it to cider. However, your cider vinegar will have malty notes.
For more information, read our guide on How to Make Homemade Vinegar.

Is a Mother of Vinegar Essential for Making Vinegar?

It is not necessary to use the gelatinous film to initiate fermentation, as it contains a relatively small number of microorganisms. If you do not wish to use the film, you can simply use unpasteurized vinegar rich in active bacteria to start the fermentation and produce vinegar.

However, it is also possible to make vinegar without a mother of vinegar (or unpasteurized vinegar) because the acetic acid bacteria, responsible for turning alcohol into vinegar, are present in the air. If alcohol is left in the open air, it will sooner or later be contaminated by acetic acid bacteria and will naturally turn to vinegar.

Acetic acid bacteria are wine producers’ nightmare as they strive to avoid this transformation!

That said, using a mother of vinegar has several significant advantages for vinegar production:

  • Faster fermentation
  • More consistent results
  • Better success rate

Can You Create Your Own Mother of Vinegar (From Scratch)?

Yes, it is possible, but you need patience!

As explained above, to create a mother of vinegar from scratch, choose an alcoholic liquid without preservatives (such as wine, cider, or beer) and pour it into a glass or ceramic container. Cover the container with a breathable cloth and place it in a warm, dark place. Wait a few months for the mother of vinegar to form on the surface of the liquid.

Once the vinegar is ready, filter it and store it in glass bottles away from direct light. The mother of vinegar can be reused to produce more vinegar by following the same steps.

Differences between vinegar and kombucha scoby

What Is the Difference Between Vinegar and Kombucha Mothers?

Although they look similar, kombucha and vinegar mothers (scobys) are not identical or interchangeable.

The kombucha scoby contains bacteria and yeast adapted to the fermentation of sweet tea. It carries out two fermentations simultaneously:

  • Fermentation of sugar into alcohol (thanks to the yeast)
  • Fermentation of alcohol into acid (thanks to lactic and acetic acid bacteria)

The kombucha scoby is added directly to a sweet liquid. With time, the liquid will become fizzy and tangy. A delicious kombucha vinegar can be made if the fermentation is allowed to continue.

The mother of vinegar, on the other hand, contains mainly bacteria. It must therefore be added to an already fermented alcohol.
A mother of vinegar could not be used to make kombucha, but a kombucha scoby could be used to turn alcohol into vinegar.

Apple vinegar

Can You Make Vinegar From Apple Juice?

Turning apple juice into vinegar is not possible without going through the alcoholic fermentation stage. If you add a mother of vinegar directly to the apple juice, the fermentation process is likely to go badly, because acetic acid bacteria need alcohol to produce acetic acid.

To turn apple juice into vinegar, follow these steps:

  1. Ferment the apple juice into alcohol (cider) using yeast. This step is crucial as it creates the alcohol needed for the subsequent acetic acid fermentation.
  2. Ferment the cider into vinegar using a mother of vinegar. The acetic acid bacteria in the scoby convert the alcohol into acetic acid, producing vinegar.

The principle applies to any sweet liquid. It is also possible to use sugar and apple chunks to make vinegar, as in our recipe for apple peel vinegar. In this case, the apple chunks and added sugar provide the nutrients needed for alcoholic and acetic acid fermentation.

Where to Find a Mother of Vinegar?

Mothers of vinegar can be bought or gifted.

If you have relatives who make vinegar, they will be happy to give you one! Otherwise, there are online communities that specialize in sharing vinegar scobys.

No mother of vinegar for sale in your area? Buy a kombucha scoby or a Jun scoby. Their bacteria will be perfect for turning alcohol into vinegar.

Another option is to start with unpasteurized vinegar. Look for vinegar marked “raw” or “with mother”. This vinegar will be perfect for seeding your fermentation.

The gelatinous disk is not essential to start the fermentation. It will form naturally on the surface of the liquid over time.

Happy exploration!

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