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How to infuse vinegars and oils

Enhance foods with your own gourmet vinegars and oils

You can find many flavored vinegars and oils right off the grocery shelf that will add a new level of taste to salads, appetizers, and many other types of foods. Make your own infused versions at home using these ideas.

You can mix and match just about any herb, vegetable, or fruit to create home-infused vinegars and oils. There are several recommendations for the length of time to infuse vinegars and oils: from two weeks to two months.

Food safety is the first step in the process.

You have seen those pretty jars sitting on a dusty shelf at discount gift stores. They'll look just as nice sitting on your counter at home, but think twice about actually using them. The act of infusing opens up vinegar and oil products up to E. coli and botulism bacteria. Careful handling and familiarity with the origins of your infused products are essential.

All containers must be sterilized. They should have screw-on, non-metallic caps or corks that are also sanitary. You can find sterilized corks at wine-supply shops.

If you are planning to make infused products as gifts and want to use unique containers, make sure they can withstand the sterilization process. If they cannot, then create them as a pretty presentation on the counter, but not for consumption.

Second, purchase the finest oils, vinegars, and wines available. White wine vinegars display their ingredients with clarity, but red wine vinegars pair well with fruits. Oils and rice vinegars are more prone to bacterial growth. Oils, in particular, must be refrigerated, although some sources recommend a "cool" place. Do not take a chance; refrigerate.

Commercially-infused vinegar and oil products are treated with anti-bacterial washes that are not available to do-it-yourselfers. These products are safe if you are certain the store offers a frequent supply of fresh items. While you cannot truly sanitize fruits at home, herbs can be washed in a 3 cups water/1/2 teaspoon bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly. To speed up the infusion process, smash the herbs with a spoon to bruise the leaves.

Place the fruits, herbs, or whole spices in a warm, just-sterilized jar. Heat the vinegar or the oil but do not allow to boil. Slowly add the liquid to your sterilized jar. You may have to skewer fruit to keep it from rising to the top and creating a bottleneck.

Tighten the lid and allow to cool. Place in refrigerator for at least two weeks; if you can wait, two months is even better for enhanced flavors.

In time, the vinegar may cloud. When you are ready to use it, strain it through a coffee filter and discard the ingredients. If you wish to keep it looking attractive, add a sprig or two of fresh, sterilized herbs and keep in the refrigerator. Always check for odors or any "off" taste before serving.

If you are giving infused oil or vinegar as gifts, be sure that the products will not be out of the refrigerator for any length of time. Include an instruction card for use with bold wording for refrigeration.

Once you have tried a few different flavor variations, you'll wonder why you waited so long to add this gourmet touch to meals.


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