The word “vinegar” comes from the French word for sour or “gone off” wine—vin aigre. Though no one knows who discovered vinegar, the joke is that it was someone who was not very good at making wine, since the processes are similar. Yet the original accident that opened mankind’s eyes to vinegar was hardly a wasted effort.
In fact, from the very beginning, vinegar has been featured in the lives of both the famous and the unknown. Monarchs and peasants, commanders of great armies and foot soldiers—all of them have used vinegar in some way to soothe their paths through life. The Babylonians were well versed in the use of vinegar. Around 5,000 B.C. they used it for preserving food and as a condiment. The Babylonians are also credited with introducing the practice of flavoring vinegar with spices and herbs.
In Egypt, vinegar gained fame When Queen Cleopatra used it to win a bet. She wagered with Marc Antony she could could host the most expensive meal in history. A meal that cost more than 10,000,000 sesterces. The next day, as the meal in question came to a close, Antony said that,while it had been an extravagant meal, it was no more impressive than other banquetsband certainly not worth the sum of money she had specified. At this, Cleopatra removed one of her earrings containing a single enormous pearl, and dropped it in a goblet of wine vinegar. Each of the pearls was so large and rare that its value was estimated at “10,000,000 sesterces” or to be a bit more helpful, “the value of 15 countries.”
In any event, it was worth a fortune. The pearl dissolved in the vinegar, which Cleopatra then drank. Marc Antony had no choice but to concede defeat .The value of that single drink, let alone the banquet, had indeed been more than any meal in history. Speaking of Romans, vinegar was a common drink for every roman soldier. Drinking a quality wine by a soldier was seen as an act of indiscipline by most Roman generals. So much so that many of them outlawed the drinking of imported wines. But the drinking of a lesser quality brew,Known as Posca (a mixture of vinegar, water, and herbs) became so commonplace that it was actually included as a standard ration for the soldiers.
Among the ancient Greeks, it quickly became popular as a pickling agent for meats and vegetables. Hippocrates celebrated it for its medicinal virtues. The Bible refers to it as both a soothing and healing agent. Early Middle Eastern writings refer to it as a clotting agent, a digestive aid and even an expectorant. The Chinese and Japanese used rice vinegar as a drink like today’s energy drink. In fact, vinegar might well be one of the first and most broadly recorded natural health treatments in history.
Vinegar also became one of the first “manufactured medicines.” Once made exclusively at home, it was a thriving commercial industry by 2000 B.C. and quickly assumed its place as the solution for any number of big and small health, beauty and cleaning problems.
In times of war, it was used in different ways. Soldiers during the American Civil War used apple cider vinegar to treat scurvy—a deficiency of Vitamin C. In World War I, medics also turned to vinegar, using it as an antiseptic to treat wounds.
Yet as commercial pharmaceuticals and “new and improved” chemical cleaning solutions hit the market in the second half of the 20th century, vinegar was replaced. Were the new products really better than the old standby? Not necessarily. But vinegar wasn’t viewed as “modern” enough for a time, and gradually became forgotten as a first choice solution.
It’s time to reverse that trend.