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I have used vinegar for flavor as a substitute for salt and noticed that it is used in salads, not sure why perhaps as preserver/flavour. But I have never realized that it could be used in much more like a thing to avoid potatoes turning mush, comment here. So what are the functions of vinegar? Why does it have such functions? According to this, pH of vinegar is about 2.4. It is very hard for me to see its applications. Please, teach why it works how-it-works.

Please, add some scientific tag like chemistry or homebrew-science to show that I am interested in proper explanations.

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You already mentioned the one main function of vinegar besides taste: to lower the pH of the food. This has an effect on just about any food, so there are hundreds of applications. Don't expect a complete answer here; this topic can fill a book. –  rumtscho May 31 at 23:05

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I don't remember the exact science behind the potatoes not turning to mush ... I know it was discussed on an episode of America's Test Kitchen, and they even discussed the amount of vinegar and how it affected the window for cooking times. (I want to say it was on an episode where they were making an Austrian potato salad)

... and it's not specifically vinegar, and not solely potatoes. Acids will stop quite a few items from softening when cooking. I know the list inclues onions (pre-cook onions before adding acids if you want them to disolve into a sauce), potatoes, apples ... I'm guessing there's others.

For potatoes and apples, most recipes claim it's to slow down browning. You see it in potato salad, but not mashed potatoes. You'll see it in apple pies, but not in applesauce ... because they'll come out lumpy.

Matt already mentioned three uses for vingear:

  • as half of a chemical leavener
  • tenderizing / marinades
  • preservation / picking
  • coagulation (eg, when poaching eggs)

But also :

  • stabalizing eggwhite foams (might just be a variation of coagulation?)
  • denaturing / "cooking" (eg. in the case of ceviche; a variation of marinating?)
  • flavor (might not be a 'science case' ... but sour is one of the primary tastes; especially helps to balance out fatty dishes)
  • cleaning / disinfection (might not be a 'cooking' use)
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You forgot that a tablespoon of vinegar in a cup of water with food coloring has been used by everyone to dye Easter eggs.

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Vinegar is also used to form many emulsions, including Hollandaise sauce (with egg yolk and butter), mayonaise (with egg yolk and oil), vinaigrette (with salad oil).

it can also be used for making buttermilk, by adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of whole milk

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wait a little, why no mention about possible repercussions such as salmonella? Anyway very good idea +1 for that but what about the safety? Is it even wise, let alone easy, to do this type of things? A local chef said that he buys all mayonaise and such stuff because he fears salmonella. –  user2954 Mar 22 '11 at 12:11
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i was only answering the specific question about the uses of vinegar. there are plenty of topics here on food safety of raw eggs. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2957/… cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/5702/… –  rbp Mar 23 '11 at 20:41
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you are right, thank you. –  user2954 Apr 24 '11 at 7:18
    
ha, thanks. I always upvote comments/answers that say I'm right! –  rbp Apr 25 '11 at 14:10
    
Vinegar does nothing for the emulsion, that's the yolk. Vinegar in hollandaise or mayonnaise is there for flavour only. The vinaigrette is not a true emulsion. –  BaffledCook May 28 at 10:33

Vinegar is an acid. It is made from fermenting ethanol. This makes acetic acid.

Much like a kid's vinegar + baking soda = volcano science project, vinegar is sometimes used in breads to help the bread rise. My mom's banana bread is one example. And the more ripe the bananas are, the less acidic they are, so you need more vinegar in her recipe. My wife's mom's Banana bread recipe uses baking powder for the same effect using different chemicals.

Note: There is a difference between baking soda and baking powder.

Because it is acidic, it can be used in marinades to break down meats (or connective tissue). Follow the recipe for the marinade.

Vinegar (since it is an acid) also speeds up coagulation.

You can also use vinegar to preserve things like cucumbers. This is the process of pickling. The acid helps preserve the cucumbers (or other vegetables or fruits). Instead of vinegar (or other acids), you can use other, more natural methods of fermentation to pickle the vegetables. I've never done it, but I hear that they spoil quicker than the vinegar style pickling.

If you want to get into the science of cooking, I recommend "Professional Cooking" by Gisslen - it's a textbook for future chefs in culinary school

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Thanks for the book recommendation. –  z-boss Mar 21 '11 at 16:56
    
If I tried to be very frugal, can you think about any application where I would need vinegar? I have never realized where I really need it. I am uncertain of its real costs and benefits. It may extend the usage life of products like old potatoes but then again it may be too expensive to use. If I get a huge harvest of berries, apples and such things, could I use vinegar to preserve them for winter? For berries, I have used the special type of sugar but vinegar may be cheaper option, is it a substitute? Could I use vinegar to preserve chanterelle? How can I know where I can use it? –  user2954 Mar 23 '11 at 22:40
    
+1 fascinating book! –  user2954 Apr 23 '11 at 22:42

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