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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Is there anything I need to know about vinegar?  Is it always kosher, since it’s just made from corn, apples, or other simple ingredients?  

A. Vinegar is made by fermenting alcohol, and just about any alcohol can be used.  One obvious source of alcohol is wine, and if wine is not produced under special care by people who are shomer Shabbos, it will be forbidden as stam yayin.  Therefore, wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar, which is a type of wine vinegar) requires hashgachah to ensure that the wine it was made from was kosher.  Interestingly, if vinegar is made from stam yayin, it remains forbidden, but if it is made from kosher wine, then it will not become stam yayin, even if it is subsequently touched or moved by someone who is not shomer Shabbos.

What about malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar, which are, respectively, made from barley and apples (which were fermented into an alcoholic beverage)?  Those do not contain wine or grape juice, and, therefore, from an ingredient perspective, they are not as sensitive.  However, almost every vinegar company produces wine vinegar on equipment that is shared with their other vinegars.  That possibility, that the malt or apple cider vinegar might be made in the same tanks and machinery as the non-kosher wine vinegar, is an automatic reason to require hashgachah, to make sure there is no carryover of non-kosher into the kosher.  This concern is even more significant for vinegar, because it has the status of being “charif” (sharp or pungent).  As a result, even if the non-kosher equipment has not been used in 24 hours (aino ben yomo), the non-kosher taste absorbed in the tanks etc. will cause the malt or apple cider vinegar to become non-kosher.

The vinegars we discussed until now are all made from a specific item – grapes/wine, barley, or apples.  In contrast, white distilled vinegar is made by creating an alcohol which goes through a method of concentration called distillation.  The distilled alcohol, which is 95% pure alcohol and colorless, is referred to as “grain neutral spirits”, because at that level of concentration there is no carryover of taste from the original grain, and you can no longer identify what it was made from.  This alcohol is watered down and used to create white distilled vinegar.  The kashrus concerns with white distilled vinegar are (a) there is a small chance it might be made from wine or grape juice, (b) it might be made on equipment shared with wine vinegar, (c) the nutrients added (to compensate for those lost during distillation) might be non-kosher, and (d) the water used to dilute the alcohol might be a byproduct of the production of wine vinegar at that same plant.

Many Poskim discussed the concern of vinegar eels, a wormlike creature that is common in vinegar.  Modern pasteurization and processing methods ensure that these will not be found in a standard bottle of vinegar you buy in the supermarket, and, therefore, this is no longer a meaningful concern for consumers.

All types of vinegar are sensitive for Pesach for the obvious reason that the alcohol might be made from chametz or kitnios.  Additionally, one must be concerned that the equipment and nutrients (and yeast used to create the alcohol) might not have been suitable for Pesach.  In this context, it is noteworthy that malt vinegar is clearly chametz, since it is made from barley, but in the United States, most other vinegars are likely produced from kitnios.  This is relevant when deciding if vinegar, or items made with it, must be discarded or sold before Pesach, and that is something you would want to speak to your local Rav about.

Vinegar is used in many condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, and pickles, and since vinegar is kosher-sensitive – for year-round or Pesach use – all items which contain vinegar should only be used if they bear reputable kosher certification.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, November 24, 2023.