As I experiment with cooking in other cuisines, my shelf of ingredients becomes more and more crowded. Virgin Olive oil has taken permanent residence there, as has Balsamic vinegar. I also keep red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and white vinegar, most of them to infuse a particular type of acidity to my salad dressings.
Going by the labels and the countries of origin on the bottles of vinegar in the supermarket you would think that vinegar has never been produced in India.
Surprise! Country vinegar has been produced in India for a very long time for use in medicines ( called sirca) and food. Since vinegar can be produced from almost anything which has sugar or starch, each area made vinegar from different materials. In Bengal from Jamun fruit and Palmyra sap, in U.P from sugarcane juice, from coconut in the South , from jaggery and sugarcane in Calcutta and from raisins, palm sap, grapes, mahua flowers and toddy in other parts of India .
Since vinegar is best made from converting sugar into alcohol it soon came under legislation in India. In 1948, licences were required for vinegar manufacture and it moved into the hands of big business. Since then till recently the most popularly available has been a rather tasteless synthetic acetic acid vinegar. By the way synthetic vinegar is illegal for food use in most other countries.
My favourite indigenous vinegar is made from toddy in Goa which I pick up locally when there. It is just fabulous for cooking and salads. It is made by storing coconut toddy in barrels, in a warm and humid place for several months and letting it slowly ferment. After filtering and decanting it makes a really good vinegar. Like all good vinegars it is aged and has lost that sharp , biting and raw taste which fresh vinegar has.
Cottage units in India mostly produce fresh vinegar made from coconut molasses, mango and other ingredients for pickling purposes and these are not very nice.
You are lucky if you can get home made natural vinegar. Orange and pineapple vinegar was once available in India as a by- product of the fruit growing industry and it would be wonderful if the production of all those old types of aged vinegars were encouraged again. There are artisanal vinegar producers all over the world. Why not here? We already have a wealth of recipes from ancient times and a range of wonderful ingredients...........
P.S.One good vinegar available here is Coconut Vinegar from Goana Foods.