Survey of Vinegar Recipes

Scroll 8 in Qimin Yaoshu has twenty-three vinegar recipes in it.  I've now translated them all, and rather than posting them fully, I thought I'd offer a summary, and a few of them in particular.

I haven't (successfully, ahem) made any of these yet, and when I do I'll post separately about them, with the full recipe included.

Science and Civilisation in China notes that vinegar was a relatively late addition to Chinese cooking, replacing the use of Prunus mume (a kind of apricot) as a souring agent in the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BCE).


Most of these are millet vinegars, produced like a millet wine.  But they also don't all use yeast cakes.  Most are using what I'm translating as "wheat grains" (麥䴷), which are also called "yellow steam" (黃蒸).  To make this:

作黃蒸法:To Make Yellow Steam

In the middle of the sixth or seventh months, take fresh wheat, and finely grind it.
Soak it in water, and then steam it, and when thoroughly steamed, take it out, and spread it to cool.
Set it out, cover it, and treat it like wheat grains.
Again, do not winnow it; consider how it will diminish.

We also see a few other kinds of millet, barley, millet husks, and water, and some vinegars that just use wine as the primary source of fermentable.


Most of these are more or less just mixing together the ingredients and letting it go, although they sometimes have specific timing instructions, or cooling instructions.  It seems to have been a big concern not to ferment too hot, and to cool the fermenter with cold water on the outside.

Most recipes call for cover with a silk floss cloth.  This will allow in the air needed to turn the alcohol into vinegar.

作大酢法:To Make Great Vinegar
1 part wheat grains
3 parts cooked foxtail millet
3 parts water
秫米神酢法:To Make Exceptional Glutinous Millet [Sorghum?] Vinegar
1 part wheat grains
3 parts glutinous millet (maybe sorghum) or glutinous proso millet
10 parts water
又法:Another Method
1 part wheat grains
3 parts cooked foxtail millet
10 parts water
又法:Another Method
1 part wheat grains
9 parts cooked foxtail millet
9 parts water
粟米、麴作酢法:To Make Vinegar From Foxtail Millet and Yeast Cakes
1 part common (previously, “lumpy”) yeast cakes
10 parts cooked foxtail millet
10 parts water
秫米酢法:To Make Glutinous Millet Vinegar
1 part powdered yeast cakes
10 parts glutinous millet
Soured water from rinsing the grain, enough to make a thin congee
大麥酢法:To Make Barley Vinegar
1 part wheat grains
1 part finely milled barley, 0.05+ parts foxtail millet
3 parts water
燒餅作酢法:To Make Vinegar From Roasted Cakes
1 part wheat grains
Some roasted wheat cakes
3 parts water
迴酒酢法:To Make Vinegar From Turned Wine
1 part powdered yeast cakes, 1 part wheat grains

50 parts unpressed wine (that spoiled before pressing), 10 parts water
動酒酢法:To Make Vinegar From Spoiled Wine

10 parts wine (that spoiled after pressing), 3 parts water
又方:Another Method
1 part wheat grains
6 parts cooked proso millet
20 parts wine
神酢法:To Make Exceptional Vinegar
1 part yellow steam
3 parts steamed bran
Enough water to cover
作糟糠酢法:To Make Vinegar From Dregs and Husks

1 part wine dregs, 1 part foxtail millet husks

酒糟酢法:To Make Vinegar From Wine Dregs

Wine dregs not pressed to dryness, crushed grain

作糟酢法:To Make Vinegar From Dregs

4 parts cooked foxtail millet
20 parts water-diluted wine dregs
《食經》作大豆千歲苦酒法:To Make 1000 Year Great [soy?] Bean Vinegar from the Classic of Food

1 part great beans
Unfiltered wine
作小豆千歲苦酒法:To make 1000 Year Small Bean Vinegar

5 parts small beans, steamed proso millet to cover
30 parts wine
作小麥苦酒法:To Make Vinegar from Wheat

3 parts cooked wheat
20 parts thin wine
水苦酒法:To Make Water Vinegar
2 parts glutinous rice yeast cakes, or wheat grains
2 parts coarse grain
10 parts clear water
新成苦酒法:To Make Newly-Formed Vinegar
1 jin [unit of weight] roasted crushed yeast cakes
1 dou proso millet, but also 1 dou foxtail millet if you want it to be good.
5 dou water
烏梅苦酒法:To Make Vinegar From Smoked Prunus mume

1 part smoked Prunus mume
5 parts vinegar [makes a sort of dried vinegar]
蜜苦酒法:To Make Vinegar From Honey

1 part honey
10 parts water
外國苦酒法:To Make Vinegar as Foreigners Do

3 parts honey, cilantro leaves
10 parts water

There's another vinegar recipe in chapter 34, the chapter on fruit trees, which is made entirely from windfallen overripe peaches.

One thing I find interesting is that some of the later recipes (starting with the great bean vinegar) are 
coming from a now-lost text, the Classic of Food, and for one, Newly-Formed Vinegar, the author of Qimin Yaoshu haas commentary which reads, "I tasted this vinegar, but it was not good.  I added one dou of foxtail millet, and fouteen days later, it was clear and beautifully heady, but not better than the great vinegar [the first recipe]."

I think it's really interesting to see the author give more than just dry recipes - he clearly has a standard to which he compares the others, and thinks the recipe he's inherited isn't so great.


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