05 September 2014

About Vinegar, Imitation Vinegar, Acetic Acid, and E260.

Following our last blog post questioning whether all vinegar was 'eco' and may have been made from petrochemicals, Australian Vinegar CEO, Ian Henderson (whose Australian made distilled vinegar we referenced in the article) received a lot of emails from people eager for more information.  We are thrilled that so many people are interested in questioning how products are made, what from, and where.  We love being part of a an engaged community of conscious consumers who want change for the better.

Ian was also pleased about the interest in vinegar, but has clarified that my hunch about home brand bulk vinegars being made from petrochemical derived acetic acid was not correct.  I was so delighted to receive a phone call from Ian and his help by preparing this blog post.  Please check out their Australian Vinegar family company.

In his post below, Ian explains that Australian Food Standards dictate that when pure acetic acid that has been made from petrochemicals is mixed with water and sold as food, it must be labelled “Imitation Vinegar”.   Ian says that if we buy a product made in Australia that is labelled as vinegar, it will be made from ethanol that is either grain based or sugar based. 

Everything you ever wanted to know about Vinegar, Imitation Vinegar, Acetic Acid and E260.  By Ian Henderson, CEO and principal Vinegar Maker at Australian Vinegar. 

Vinegar is a great cleaning tool. It’s a good weedkiller and a great preservative of food. It has so many uses. We thoroughly recommend its use in cleaning.

However, there is miss-information around Vinegar, Imitation vinegar, acetic acid and E260 that I would like to address so everyone can make their own educated decisions.

Q: What is Synthetic Acetic Acid
A: There is no such thing. There is only acetic acid, which can be made a number of ways. But regardless of how it is made it is still just acetic acid made of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules. C2H4O2 There is several ways to make acetic acid, and some confuse the method with the term Synthetic.

Vinegar always contains Acetic Acid. Plus maybe flavour, sweetness, or malliard Sugars (they make Balsamic black, but that’s another story)

Q: How can Acetic Acid be made?
A: There are 3 methods:
1.       By oxidation under high temperature of Ethyl Acetate (from oil usually, but not always)
2.       By fermentation of Ethanol by a bacteria called Aceterbacter.
3.       By Fermentation of sugar by a bacteria called Gluconobacter.

Method 3 is very rare, slow and difficult.  Almost all vinegars are made using method 2 from ethanol derived from yeast fermentation of grain or sugar.  Vinegar fermentation is simply a part of the carbon cycle, returning carbon back to the soil from fruit that hasn’t been eaten and fallen form the tree.

Q: So what is the difference between the three products produced above?
A: Method 1 produces pure acetic acid, that if mixed with water can be sold as food under the label “Imitation Vinegar” and not the term “Vinegar”.

Methods 2 and 3 can be sold as vinegar provided the amount of acetic acid is greater than 4%. This is for food safety as this is the level required to stop moulds growing in vinegar.

Imitation vinegar is pure acetic acid (yes, petrochemical derived) and water.  Whereas fermented vinegar is pure ethanol (usually from grain or sugar) fermented into pure acetic acid and then mixed with water.  We have done the trials ourselves, even under mass spectrometry analysis the two vinegars are essentially chemically identical. 

Acetic acid vinegars must be declared as “Imitation Vinegar”.  If it is fermented it can be declared as just “vinegar”. The law surrounding this is governed by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (Called FSANZ).   The FSANZ law on this is very clear (see the extract below).

If you start with wine, instead of pure ethanol you get wine vinegar, is you ferment apple cider you get apple cider vinegar. The source of the alcohol defines the end product.

Q: What is food additive 260?
This is pure acetic acid. It may or may not come from fermentation. But it probably does not come from fermentation, so it is best to assume is the pure acetic acid form (method 1 above).

Q: What is Distilled Vinegar? Why is it different to just “Vinegar”?
Sometimes, because the ethanol used to make white vinegar is fermented to a low concentration it needs to be “distilled” to remove excess water and concentrate the ethanol.  Sometimes you will see “Distilled Vinegar” on the label. Distilled Vinegar and just plain vinegar are the same product. Its just a bit of marketing.   Rest assured, if it had added acetic acid from oil it would not say “Vinegar” or it would have to have food additive 260 on the label.

Q: So what does my cheap white vinegar at the supermarket contain?
The plain white vinegar you can buy at the supermarket, if labelled “Vinegar” is fermented. If it is not from grain or sugar it will declare “Imitation Vinegar” or food acid 260.
Its actually rare to see imitation vinegar in retail. Its used a lot in industry, and a lot of preserved foods are declared with food acid 260.  I have never seen it for sale at a grocery store, only real “Vinegar”.

Q Cleaning vs cooking vinegar?
You can cook with white vinegar, but don’t.  Its flavourless.  Use a nice wine vinegar or apple vinegar. You get the acid that will make the dish lift, plus you get some extra flavours.  Choose cooking vinegars with lots of colour, lots of flavour and ideally with no sulphites or added colours. Know your producer, know how they make it and where they source the alcohol from.

Vinegar also has health and digestion benefits. But not all vinegars do. That’s a whole other topic for next time.

About Australian Vinegar and Ian Henderson

Ian has two science degrees and a diploma in vinegar making from Austria where he studied and worked in 2006. Ian was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study vinegar making in Europe. Ian is the CEO and principal Vinegar Maker at Australian Vinegar. Australian Vinegar is Australia’s leading vinegar maker.  LiraH is the retail brand of Australian Vinegar and makes a range of caramelised balsamics, wine vinegars, apple vinegars and Verjus.

An interesting tidbit: Ian started with a vinegar 'mother' from his wife's family of third generation winemakers, and after much trial and error  launched his first commercial product under the LiraH brand-Oak Aged Shiraz vinegar.

Excerpt from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act

FSANZ  Standard 2.10.1      Vinegar and related products
       Note 1  This instrument is a standard under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 (Cth). The standards together make up the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. See also section 1.1.1—3.
       Note 2  The provisions of the Code that apply in New Zealand are incorporated by reference into a food standard under the Food Act 1981 (NZ). See also section 1.1.1—3.
2.10.1—1           Name
                This Standard is Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code — Standard 2.10.1 — Vinegar and related products.
2.10.1—2           Definitions
          Note  In this Code (see section 1.1.2—3):
                                      imitation vinegar means a food that:
                                            (a)     is prepared by mixing water and acetic acid; and
                                            (b)     contains no less than 40 g/kg of acetic acid.
                                      vinegar means a food that:
                                            (a)     consists of the sour liquid prepared by acetous fermentation, with or without alcoholic fermentation, of any suitable foodstuff, and including blends and mixtures of such liquids; and
                                           (b)     contains no less than 40 g/kg of acetic acid.

29 August 2014

How does vinegar kill germs? And is vinegar eco friendly?

Australian Vinegar makes distilled traditional vinegar in South East Queensland.
 Answering a quick question is not so simple in some matters eco-friendly!

Because we are often suggesting vinegar as an eco friendly household cleaner and disinfectant, I wanted to understand how vinegar does kill germs.

It is the acetic acid in vinegar that kills bacteria and viruses by denaturing (chemically changing) the proteins and fats that make-up these nasties (source: Professor Peter Collignon, see below).  Most general purpose white vinegars contain about 5% acetic acid.

The stronger the acetic acid content the more effective the vinegar will be at disinfecting. 

Unfortunately, due to the lack of transparency in food labelling by mass food producers, it is hard to find a vinegar that states the acetic acid percentage or even what it is made from.  Generally the ingredients just say "Vinegar".  You may find some boutique brands of cooking vinegar that do give the percentage. 

Some "vinegar" is made from petrochemicals (but will be labelled "Imitation vinegar")

What we are presented with as vinegar today is not necessarily the vinegar "that our grandmothers used to clean with".  As with many products in our modern world, cheap petrochemical processes are corrupting how nature intended things to be done.

All vinegar contains acetic acid.  Acetic acid is the chemical name for the naturally occurring substance that is created from distilling or fermenting a grain or plant.  However, it is also the name given to acetic acid that is made from petrochemical derivatives such as butane.

Companies such as Monsanto and BP manufacture acetic acid on large scale that involves using carbon monoxide and methanol to create a chemical reaction, or heating butane in the presence of metal ions such as manganese, cobalt and chromium, which decomposes to produce acetic acid.

This is the pure acetic acid often used in foods as an acidity regulator and is labelled E260

Given the lack of any information on the packaging, I had a hunch that "home brand" bulk white vinegar most likely contained acetic acid not made from fermented grains, rather petrochemical-derived ethanol. However, Australian Vinegar CEO, Ian Henderson, has explained that Australian Food Standards dictate that when pure acetic acid that has been made by oxidation under high temperature of Ethyl Acetate (including from oil) is mixed with water and sold as food, it must be labelled “Imitation Vinegar”.  This appears to be different to the Food Standards in the USA.

Ian is adamant that if we buy a product made in Australia that is labelled as vinegar, it will be made from ethanol that is either grain based or sugar based. 

The home brand vinegar I looked at says on the label "product of Australia".  And according to the ACCC, 'Product of' means that each significant ingredient or part of the product originated in the country claimed and almost all of the production processes occurred in that country.

However, Ian does say that E260 pure acetic acid may or may not come from fermentation, but probably does not (instead coming from petrochemicals), so it is best to assume it does not.  Thus it appears worthwhile to avoid E260 in foods.

We were pleased to find an Australian vinegar maker based in south east Queensland making vinegar from distillation.  See here a post Ian has written for us to clarify any miss-information around Vinegar, Imitation vinegar, synthetic acid, acetic acid and E260.

Australian Vinegar specialises in technically challenging 'Clean Labelled' vinegar which is free from allergens, sulphites, artificial colours and flavours and all 'E' numbers.  LiraH is the retail brand of Australian vinegar and makes caramelised balsamics, wine vinegars, apple vinegars and Verjus.

Thank you to TheEcoMum blog for your detailed article on the topic of petrochemical derived acetic acid.  Please read that article if you are interested in delving further, although the information about Australian Food Standards is not correct according to Ian.

Vinegar to kill germs

Back to using vinegar to kill germs.  According to Ian Henderson, whether acetic acid is made from petrochemicals or distillation, the end product is the exact same chemical structure (the magic of chemistry).  That said, if you are wishing to reduce the use of petrochemicals in our world, the source of the ingredients is important.  For others, using any white vinegar to clean is still a far preferable solution than toxic bleaches and ammonia.

Professor Peter Collignon recommends that when cleaning at home we should keep it simple.
Rather than concentrating on disinfecting or killing the bugs, we should focus on cleaning with hot soapy water and good old-fashioned elbow grease to physically scrub away organic material.
"You've got to clean the surface first and that's usually enough. Then you have to ask yourself whether you need to disinfect at all," he says.
"For the kitchen sink, for example, you probably don't need anything except cleaning."
However, that dirty chopping board might warrant disinfecting – but only after you've given it a good scrub with hot, soapy water.
It's only the act of rubbing and scrubbing a dirty chopping board that can break down the slimy matrix around certain types of salmonella, allowing the disinfectant to then get to work.
As for commercial cleaners, Collignon says we don't always need the level of disinfection in the home that these products provide.
"We over-use chemicals," he says. "Instead of using one unit, we use 1000 units, and the benefits are marginal."
"All of us would like to use a magic potion so that we don't have to use the elbow grease. But that's a false premise."
If you do need to disinfect, clean first, then disinfect with the least toxic, most biodegradable product that does the job.  Vinegar is at the least toxic and most biodegradable end of the scale when it comes to disinfectants.

I have yet to find in Australia any "cleaning vinegar" labelled with a stronger concentration of acetic acid such as you can find in the United States.  Nor have I found any vinegars promoting that they are made from "non petrochemical sources" as is also happening in the States.  Perhaps due to the fact in Australia it would need to be labelled Imitation Vinegar.

With your consumer purchasing power and questioning of the companies selling "vinegar" on Australian shelves we can achieve greater transparency in labelling.

Sources:
Ian Henderson has two science degrees and a diploma in vinegar making from Austria. Ian was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study vinegar making in Europe. Ian is the CEO and principal Vinegar Maker at Australian Vinegar. 
Professor Peter Collignon, infectious disease physician at the Australian National University's Medical School, who was interviewed for and ABC article

16 May 2014

What is the planet happy to give me to eat today?

Yallingup Wood Fired Bakery, Dunsborough, Western Australia uses locally grown biodynamic flour. Photo credit: my bro.

Let's flip around the concept of looking in a recipe book for something that we would like to cook, heading off to the supermarket to buy the required ingredients then coming home to make that for dinner.

Most of us love a little food homage whether admiring the artfully plated meals on MasterChef or glistening images in Donna Hay magazine.  They entice us to create such a delectable dish, but often without thought for whether the planet has those ingredients to offer us sustainably right now.

If we reverse that process, we can instead go the local farmers' market or grocery store, buy what we know has been grown locally and freshly harvested (or even browse our own veggie patch), then look in our recipe books to find a dish that can be crafted from the produce.

For me, the meal at the end of this approach nourishes our family with more than nutrients, it connects us with the earth and the people that grew the goods, and enhances our contentment with life.

Some tips to help you move towards more sustainable food choices:
  • Do what you can.  Don't be overwhelmed by changing everything, just open your mind to the possibilities and start!
  • Try researching just one food a week to see if you can find a locally grown alternative. 
  • Choosing a final product made in your area is a great start, but you can also move on to thinking about where the ingredients were grown.
  • Define your own limits for "local" - for example, 200 km may work in the city but not for those living in remote areas.
  • It may be challenging to find alternatives, but there are resources to help - seek and you'll find. 

One of the greatest joys of a local, seasonal food approach is that it simplifies life.  You might think it is more complicated, but actually, limiting choice is liberating.

About Yallingup Wood Fired Bread

We visited Yallingup wood fired bakery in December 2013.  Hand crafted, traditional wood fired bread is baked fresh every afternoon (check the time, but usually comes out around 4pm).   Western Australian Certified Biodynamic grown grain is stone milled to the finest flour, gently kneaded in a slow moving dough mixer and fermented over many hours. The loaves are hand-moulded and rested, then baked in wood fired ovens built from volcanic stones.








08 May 2014

Dairy farmers direct


Dairy farmers direct are local producers such as Scenicrim4realmilk.com.au
Since the supermarket price wars, many consumers have made a conscious decision to support Aussie dairy farmers by choosing branded milk (such as Dairy Farmers, Pura, Pauls) over the supermarket home brands. 

We think that by choosing the more expensive milk we are helping the farmers.  It's an important gesture, showing with our purchasing power that we believe the production of milk has a true value of more than $1 per litre.  Unfortunately, according to The Checkout on ABC1 by buying those big brand names we're not helping the dairy farmer.  The farmers are actually paid the same for the milk because the milk that ends up in either branded or home brand bottles is bought from the same farms and is processed in the same plants (by Lions and Parmalat) - it's just different packaging. All we're doing by paying more for these big brands is increasing the profit Coles and Woolworths make on the same milk!  

This episode of The Checkout explains, recommending that the best way to help dairy farmers is to buy milk from collectives or direct from a farmer who produces the milk in your region (see a list below).

For those that can, the benefits of buying from local dairy farmers include:
  • the milk is less processed and more fresh (retaining more of the nutritional value)
  • it has travelled less food miles
  • we know the actual farm that produced the milk and thus we can learn more about animal welfare and sustainability practices
  • they tend to offer more unique choices such as unhomogenised and glass bottles.  
The welfare and treatment of dairy cows is also of great concern to many people - that is why growing numbers of people choose not to eat any dairy products at all, or want to know specifically how the cows and calves are treated.  Calves being sent to abattoirs is a concerning reality of the dairy industry.  When you know exactly which farm the milk is coming from you can ask the farmer (or even visit to check for yourself).  For example, Barambah Organics gives this statement on its website:
At Barambah Organics all the calves that are born on our property stay within our care. Our calves are not considered by us to be waste products.  At the age of 6 months we take the females and males to our other properties... No Barambah calves are sent to the abbatoir.  We often get asked the question "When are the calves separated from their mothers?" Each calf is different and needs to be individually assessed and monitored after birth... The calf is not separated from its mother until it is truly on its way and fit and healthy.

 

We started a list of dairy farmers direct milk that may be local to you, but then we found this very comprehensive list by Flavourcrusader.com  Thank you to them for the research to help us all.  We have not assessed the sustainability or animal welfare practices of the below.

SE Qld
Scenic Rim 4Real Milk (only distributes within a two hour drive of their South East Queensland farm)
Barambah Organics
Maleny Dairies (seen at FoodWorks)
Cooloola Milk (Gympie region, seen at IGA - Rainbow Beach)
Cooloola Jersey Organic milk (available at Food Connect)

SA
Bd Paris Creek Farm
Fleurieu Milk Co
Alexandrina Milk

NSW
Liddels for lactose free milk (Murrary Goulburn Co-operative)
Devondale long life (Murray Goulburn Co-operative)
Norco (seen at HIlls Bakery - Ferny Hills, Megafresh - Carine, Woollies - Annerley)
Country Valley (Picton)

VIC
Organic Dairy Farmers

WA
Brownes

For unhomognised and unpasteurised (straight from the cow) you can consider raw milk marketed in Australia as "bath milk" (i.e. apparently for bathing in, not for human consumption).  Heavenly Bath Milk from the Northey Street Markets in Brisbane and Cleopatra's Bath Milk at organic/wholefood stores.

As Flavourcrusader.com says:
While supermarkets compete over the price of milk, dairy farmers step out of the ring and compete with quality. For distinct flavour, seek low temperature pasteurisation and milk from a single-origin herd. For creaminess, look for Jersey and Guernsey cows, or unhomogenised milk. For a better world, support those who cultivate rich soil, minimise plastic and go above and beyond for animal welfare.
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