Growing up, I was never fond of anything sour. Cane vinegar, tamarinds, you name it, I hated it. However, things changed in 1999. That was when I went to Israel for the first time and discovered that I liked the lemon based seasonings used in some vegetable dishes there. (Regretfully I forgot the name.)
The second major paradigm shift (not total – I’m still not a sour person) happened when I lived for almost a year in Nanjing in 2005. It was there that I fell in love with Chinese Black Vinegar. It was good with dumplings, it was good with soups, heck, it was good with everything. Also, it got rid of the saltiness inherent in Nanjing food ha ha.
My relatives and friends noticed the difference when I came home. Suddenly I’d put Chinese Black Vinegar on almost everything. I also found it pleasantly surprising that it had health benefits as well. Will it be as popular in the United States as apple cider vinegar? Who knows?
Thus, when I stumbled upon this article talking about… duh… Chinese Medicinal uses of Vinegar, I read it, digested it, and decided to quote some excerpts.
Vinegar (cu) promotes warm energy (yang) and is noted as a disinfectant (it’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral), a detoxifier, digestive aid and treatment (internal and external) for inflammation.
Thinking about it, I really really doubt if anything can survive the acidity of vinegar. I thought as a child that my tongue couldn’t =)
About 22 vinegar-making methods are collected in “Qi Min Yao Shu” (“Main Techniques for the Welfare of the People”), a book on agriculture by Jia Sixie in the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534).
The top four vinegars in China are xiangcu (fragrant vinegar) in Zhenjiang City of Zhejiang Province, lao chencu (mature vinegar) in Shanxi Province, hongqu micu (red yeast vinegar) in Fujian Province and baoning cu (bran vinegar) in Sichuan Province.
That gives me more varieties to try! But now let’s go to the health benefits:
Chinese people traditionally make vinegar from grains. Sticky rice and rice are widely used in the south while sorghum and millet are more often used in the north.
Bai cu (white vinegar) made from barley is widely used for external application (as on a wound) and in household cleaning.
During hot weather, Chinese would add vinegar to food to improve the appetite and fumigate rooms with vinegar to prevent infectious diseases.
Its uses include relieving diarrhea and jaundice when taken internally, relieving inflammation and stopping bleeding when used in external application.
It is recommended in cases of indigestion from too much greasy food, in cases of internal bleeding and sore throat.
Its many uses were recorded in the “Ben Cao Gang Mu” (“Compendium of Materia Medica”) by famed pharmacist Li Shizhen in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Modern research confirms the many benefits of vinegar, which is rich in amino acids, vitamins and acetic acid, especially rice vinegars.
It has been found to improve digestion and appetite, and to have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, especially rice and apple cider vinegars.
It is said to be helpful in protecting the liver, expanding blood vessels, working as a diuretic and promoting metabolism of proteins and sugar. Apple cider vinegar is part of many weight-loss programs.
Vinegar can also serve as solvent for certain herbs. By soaking in vinegar, the undesirable side-effect of some herbs like yuan hua (daphne genkwa) and gan sui (euphorbia kansui) can be reduced. Vinegar can also strengthen the effect of herbs like wu wei zi (shizandra berry).
Am not sure about the apple cider vinegar references though – am not very familiar with it, although it DOES work for me as a salad dressing.
Vinegar can expand the functions of other herbs, like danggui (angelica) and baishao (root of herbaceous peony) when they are soaked in vinegar – then they also can help stop bleeding. Vinegar “guides” other herbs toward the liver.
We all know vinegar is sour and bitter, so don’t overdo it, lest it cause stomach upset. Drinking it on an empty stomach produces too much gastric acid.
Adding vinegar to soup made by boiling bones can help release the calcium in the bones.
Applying vinegar to a burn can help lower the temperature and reduce skin damage. Adding a little vinegar to bath water can improve the skin.
If we can market vinegar as a sexual tonic, we’ll be RICH! Now for the “legend of the sour wine” (my own title)
Du Kang, an emperor of the Xia Dynasty (21-16st century BC) is said to have invented wine making and taught the methods to his son Hei Ta who later moved to Zhenjiang (in today’s Zhejiang Province) with his own followers.
They didn’t want to throw away their wine and kept it in a sealed jar.
When he opened the jar 21 days later, he smelled a delicious fragrance and found the liquid was both sour and sweet.
It was kept as seasoning and named cu (vinegar), which combines the characters for “21 days” and for “wine.”
“21 days” and “wine” eh, I’m sure that will come in handy in trivial pursuit! Anyway, the author concludes the article with some uses for vinegar. Bleh, all I know is that the black stuff TASTES good! Personally, I tell my patients to eat their salads with vinaigrette dressing as the acidity of the dressing counters the raw and coldness of the salad, thus preventing cold diseases in the Spleen and Stomach. And that’s if they HAVE to eat their veggies raw. In Chinese Medicine, we prefer everything cooked. I know, I know what about nutrient preservation, etc – let’s save that for another blog entry.
Zhang Qian. “Full of Vim and Vinegar” Shanghai Daily 13 October 2009. 13 October 2009 <http://www.shanghaidaily.com/sp/article/2009/200910/20091013/article_416082.htm>