Check Your Vinegar – Is It Made From Petroleum?!?

Good morning, friends.  Its been a while since I’ve posted.  A LOT has been going on in my corner of the world.  Ever since the Oklahoma Sustainability Conference, I have been immersed in peak oil and post carbon reading.  I’ve joined a couple of new groups that potentially will be very exciting to work with and hopefully will bring some good results for our local farmers and communities in general.

I’m on a steering committee to bring a Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter to Oklahoma City.  Our mission is to set up and disseminate a network of information and opportunities to bring local farmers and consumers, restaurants, farmers’ markets and stores together.  Farmers may join Buy Fresh Buy Local at no charge.  Farmers Markets, restaurants and stores will be charged small annual fees to be part of the program.  We will write, print and distribute a Buy Fresh Buy Local guide that will list all the participating members and will hopefully bring in more income for our farmers while providing everyday people like you and me fresh and healthy produce and other farm products. 

I also joined a local book group that focuses on environmental and local food issues.  They do a great job of bringing in local experts to lead discussion of the current topic.  For the next three months we’ll be reading The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience by Rob Hopkins.  This is a wonderful guide to bringing a community from consumerism to local sustainability.  Through this same group I attended my first meeting of Transition Town OKC.  This is a steering committee to bring the movement described in Hopkins’ book to local fruition. 

So, in this vein, my husband and I have been discussing peak oil.  Now, mind you, we have very separate hobbies.  I indulge him when he talks about galaxies and telescopes and he indulges me when I talk about local foods and sustainability.  So, he has asked me a couple of questions I couldn’t really answer and since I tend to get all flustered and sound stupid when I try to explain my stand on such issues as peak oil, I decided to do a little research.  He made the comment that most people make when I talk about running out of oil.  “Well, some other fuel will take its place.”  So, I started telling him that a LOT of other things, in fact, most of the everyday things in our homes, are made from petroleum in one way or another.  I found several lists of things that are made from petroleum online and then ran across a search result that talked about vinegar being made from petroleum!  Whoa!  I use vinegar A LOT in my household cleaning and this really threw me for a loop.  Vinegar is the new-old natural cleaning method and if it is made from oil – well,  hell (stomping of foot)!   So this is what I discovered:  some vinegars are, in fact, made from a petroleum derivative.  Here is the link to the entire article http://tinychoices.com/2008/05/07/is-vinegar-made-from-petroleum/.  

In summary, vinegar’s key ingredient is alcohol.  The transformation of wine or fruit juice to vinegar is a chemical process in which ethyl alcohol undergoes partial oxidation that results in the formation of acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is converted into acetic acid.  The global demand of acetic acid is around 6.5 million tons per year (Mt/a), of which approximately 1.5 Mt/a is met by recycling; the remainder is manufactured from petrochemical feedstocks or from biological sources.     And this from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division, Internal Revenue Service :“Presently, we authorize the manufacture of vinegar from ethyl alcohol synthesized from natural gas or petroleum derivatives. It is our opinion that most of the distilled spirits used in the production of vinegar are derived from natural gas and petroleum…”   Now, don’t ask me why the ATF and IRS are involved in this whole thing.  I don’t think I really want to know, but the point is about 75% of the vinegar on the market is made from a petroleum derivitive.  BUT!!!!!  The author of the post at Tiny Changes (the link above) did some research and found that Heinz uses only fermented grains for its white vinegar and apples, of course, for its cider vinegar.  So, I guess I need to check the label on my cheap Walmart brand vinegar and if it is, indeed, made from petrochemicals, then I’ll be patronizing Heinz. 

This is a great alert from Tiny Choices.  I’m going to explore their site a bit more and if it proves to be a good resource for sustainable living I’ll add it to my links here.   

Its really an eye opener to see just how convoluted and tight the web of oil dependency is.  Its time to re-skill, people!  Its time to get our heads out of the sand and not just sit and wait for Jesus to yank us out of here while we continue to preach prosperity from the pulpit and drive our SUVs.  The next 10 to 20 years will see a slow but steady decrease in the availability of our lifeblood – oil – and we are going to have to teach our children and grandchildren how to live in a VERY different world even if we’re not here to live in it with them.  The old skills need to be rediscovered and reintroduced into daily life.  WAKE UP AND CHECK YOUR VINEGAR!!!!!

Keep it simple.

P.S. I know I promised a review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, but to be honest, I forgot and have mentally moved on.  I will get around to it one of these days.  In the meantime, read it for yourself!  Its a great inspiration to start a garden!

3 thoughts on “Check Your Vinegar – Is It Made From Petroleum?!?

  1. Heinz cider vinegar (gallon size) is really cider flavored distilled vinegar – check the fine print on the label. The smaller sizes are ok.

  2. Vinegar made from petroleum is a misnomer. Petroleum is oil. Natural gas is a “petrochemical” product but the natural gas industry would be quite upset if you call their gas “petroleum”. Yes a portion of white distilled vinegar is made from ethyl alcohol which in turn is derived from natural gas. This ethyl alcohol is actually a purer form of the alcohol as it does not have the carry over of by-products of the yeast fermentation. It is distilled to very close to 200 proof (100%) alcohol and then reduced with water to a low proof to be fed to the acetobacter bacteria. So called “natural” alcohol such as produced from grain or other natural products is often not purified to this degree, usually not more than 190 proof, and often will be poisonius to the vinegar bacteria. As one who manufactured million of gallons of vinegar I would prefer the ultra-pure alcohol to the lower grade “natural” products so I did not damage my little organisms. Maybe this same idea applies to larger two legged organisms as well.
    Also, I would wager that less than 25% of the white distilled vinegar produced in the US is produced from alcohol made from natural gas. A large variety raw materials are used including corn, wheat, sugar cane, grape wine, milk, and wood pulp. Actually anything with sugar can be fermented to to this “natural” alcohol.
    Also note to Dwight – Yes read the label of the Heinz product – it is “Cider Flavored” . Heinz does sell Cider vinegar in all sizes. Your store happens to only carry the flavored white distilled product.
    And another note – acetic acid is not vinegar and should not be confused in the statistics nor in use. Do not use acetic acid as a food product. Acetic Acid is your petrochemical product and is not vinegar.

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