Vinegar: Serving up Cheese Made With Petroleum ???

The simplest cheese I teach to make and the simplest cheese that people make all over the world…is made with vinegar.

Or is it made with synthetic alcohol derived from petroleum or natural gas which is then used to make vinegar?

For all of you researchers who are reading, I need help figuring this all out.

Here is a little brief history:  I taught a class to Gretchen and Ciara on Sunday.  Gretchen asked what type of vinegars could be used in the process of making the cheese I was teaching.  I responded with my new knowledge on the variations in vinegars.  Gretchen asked me if I knew vinegar was made from coal tar.

EXCUSE ME?  Yuck!!!  No!  I did not know that! 

We proceeded to discuss the fact that the store brand vinegars I have used (suspiciously)do not have an ingredient label.  And, they don’t work right in the cheese.  And, that’s why I now use only Heinz distilled white vinegar, because it works like I expect it to, and because the label proudly says, “Made with only the best sun ripened grains,” or something along those lines.

Huh.  Gretchen agreed to do some research on the issue, and soon after she got home from class, she sent me an email including this information from the FDA website (here is the link if you want to go directly to the source.)

CPG Sec. 555.100 Alcohol; Use of Synthetic Alcohol in Foods


Increasing quantities of alcohol (ethyl alcohol) have been made synthetically from natural gas and petroleum derivatives.

Questions about the suitability of synthetic alcohol for use in manufacturing vinegar arose as early as l948. By Administration Information Letter No. 90, dated January 28, l949, the districts were advised that we seriously doubted that a product made from synthetic alcohol could be appropriately regarded as a type of vinegar.

Early in l957 the Director, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax division, Internal Revenue Service asked for comment on the suitability of synthetic alcohol for use in foods and drugs. Our comments in a letter dated February 5, l957, signed by Mr. M. R. Stephens, who was then Director, Bureau of Enforcement, included the following paragraphs:

“Ethyl alcohol is recognized in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, one of the official drug compendiums under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; consequently, ethyl alcohol intended for drug use must comply with the standards and tests laid down in the Pharmacopeia. Since the Pharmacopeia does not place any restrictions as to the method of manufacturing ethyl alcohol, synthetic alcohol which complies with the standards and tests set forth in the official monograph may legally be distributed for drug use.

“We consider that the situation with respect to foods is different. We believe that consumers generally expect the alcohol in food products to have been produced from fermented food substances, such as grains, fruit, etc., and that they do not expect their foods to contain ‘alcohol’ produced from petroleum gas.

“For this reason, we have advised inquirers that we do not regard this synthetic alcohol as a suitable food ingredient. This position, however, has not been the subject of any court review.

In reply to many letters from industry and from members of Congress, we consistently advised that we considered synthetic alcohol unsuitable for food use.

Questions have been raised as to whether we can or should continue to consider synthetic alcohol unsuitable for food use. In order to secure more information, we wrote to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division, Internal Revenue Service. Their reply included the following paragraphs:

“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. When such alcohol is used in the production of vinegar, we would consider any reference to ‘grain alcohol’ or ‘neutral grain spirits’ would be misleading for the alcohol and also the name ‘grain vinegar’ would be misleading, except for connoting strength, e.g., 40-grains.

“When alcohol is used in the production of beverage products, our regulations require that the source of the alcohol be shown on the label except for cordials and liqueurs. Incidentally, I might add that most of the alcohol used in the production of medicinal preparations and flavors is synthetic.”

Practically and scientifically, pure ethyl alcohol synthesized from natural gas or petroleum products does not differ from that obtained by fermentation with subsequent distillation. Furthermore, foods in which one is used cannot be distinguished objectively from those in which the other is used.


Synthetic ethyl alcohol may be used as a food ingredient or in the manufacturing of vinegar or other chemicals for food use, within limitations imposed by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Alcohol Administration Act, and regulations promulgated under these acts.

Any labeling reference to synthetic alcohol as “grain alcohol” or “neutral grain spirits” is considered false and misleading.

Issued: 7/25/69
Reissued: 12/3/73, 10/1/80
Revised: 2/1/89

 Now, the way I understand this after reading it slowly 2 times, is that in 1949 and 1957, it was recommended, and apparently agreed upon that synthetic alcohol should not be used in the production of foods (including vinegar).  But then, at some point (date not specified), a branch of the IRS??? recommended that it was fine to use in foods, so the FDA went ahead and changed their policy???

It seems a little (a lot) wishy-washy to me.  But, I will be the first to tell you that this is the only reading I have done on the issue, other to find out that vinegar is not taxable. 

So please, I’d love for you to jump in and comment if you have anything to add…mostly, hopefully, because you know about this stuff or because you’ve done a little more research.  A lot of us have our opinions (me included) about the sketchy nature of food these days, but instead of commenting your opinion, please only comment if you have actual factual knowledge on the subject. 

Just the facts, man.  Just the facts.

Thanks in advance, and thanks for the future of my cheesemaking classes.  I would really prefer NOT to be feeding my family and my students cheese made with petroleum or natural gas.

–  The Goat Cheese Lady


About The Goat Cheese Lady

I am Lindsey. At first I was a city girl. Then I was an urban farmgirl, attempting to balance city and farm life. Now, after moving to the country, I have embarked on life as a rural farmgirl, complete with my husband, the Animal Whisperer, man of exceptional knowledge and patience, two boys who are louder than my sister and I ever were, a herd of milking goats, and a flock of egg-laying chickens. Coyotes, mice, country dogs and prairie dogs are frequent visitors. Just 45 minutes north is Colorado Springs, the setting for our first six years in the goat world. Our family. Our city friends. Our introduction to cheesemaking. But we...and our growing farm and soon-to-be creamery...have set up shop down off of Highway 115 in Penrose, Colorado.
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21 Responses to Vinegar: Serving up Cheese Made With Petroleum ???

  1. I saw the comment by Melina. RAW (with mother) Apple cider vinegar will certainly be petro free. You can take that one bottle and then produce your own for ever. You can get a lighter vinegar if it’s suitable for certain cheese taste..if you make your own you will be the cheese guru.

    • Saturnus, Thanks for your comment on the RAW vinegar. I have attempted my own vinegar before with apple cores and skins, but didn’t like the results. Can you share with our readers (and me!) how you would continue making the vinegar from the mother? Thanks! Lindsey

  2. Excellent writing and superb information collection. So thanks all a round, I knew half of the story but all these internal government switches are there to confuse people so they never ‘distill’ the truth. Excuse the pun.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thank You So Much!!!! For this information!!!! I may say that using Coconut Secret’s Raw Organic Non GMO vinegar may be perfect for your cheese!!! Loaded with nutrition!! 🙂 CHEERS TO NON GMO!!!!!!!! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Is Your White Vinegar Made From Petroleum?

  5. Every day you learn something new, didn’t have the slightest idea of synthetic vinegar, I was looking for synthetic cheese. Great information.

  6. Angie says:

    I always have red wine vinegar on hand, and it grows a mother when kept on the shelf awhile. I don’t use much vinegar, so I often have silver dollar sized mothers on the top of my red vine vinegar. I use rice vinegar to make my cheese. Just checked it out, it is growing mother too. Any of your fancy vinegars should have real culture. The more involved I get in farming, the more I realize if it is cheap, it probably isn’t food. Real food is not cheap to produce.

  7. Laurie says:

    I’ve never used white vinegar before. However, my son wanted homemade pickles. i was given a recipe which called for white vinegar. I did buy Heinz (which I am happy after reading this.) I am shocked that they even consider using by-products from natural gas & petroleum. I guess I just dont understand why the FDA thinks GMOS and synthetic materials are good for us & future generations.

  8. Kris says:

    I’m gagging after reading this. I had no idea. I thought all vinegar was made from naturally fermented something or other NOT petrolium. Where do you get vinegar with “mother”? Does it come in both ACV and White? Thanks for the info! What do I do with that yucky bottle of gunk in my cupboard?

    • Kris, I can get Braggs apple cider vinegar with the mother from a local health food store. I’ve only seen it in ACV. Does anyone else know anything else? And, as for the gunk in your cupboard, pour it a cup or two at a time in your washing machine with the laundry. It’ll take out smells and help disinfect. Lindsey

  9. Lori says:

    I was reading your story on vinegar today. So – I though – why not go straight to the horse’s mouth? I called the 800# on my bottle of Heinz vinegar. A very nice guy named Mark answered. He said that Heinz vinegar is made from fresh corn and that they strive to use non GMO corn whenever possible. That’s it – corn – diluted with – I hate to even say this – tap water. But at least it’s not petroleum products! The information he gave me is either the truth, or he’s a very good “used car salesman”.

    I agree with Melina – I always use apple cider vinegar with “the mother” in it. I use the white vinegar for cleaning, weed killing, ant deterrent……………….

    • Thanks for sharing, Lori. I followed in your footsteps and called the 1-800# on the Kroger distilled white vinegar. After being on hold for 10 minutes, a friendly woman named Linda answered. She did everything possible to find the ingredients in her computer system for the Kroger vinegar, but they did not ever come up. She said someone will call me back with the information. Lindsey

  10. Pat Tolbert says:

    Here is web site with lots of information on making cheese.

    Hope this helps


  11. Melina says:

    Our handy-dandy FDA strikes again. If the findings are negative, change the regulations to make it ok. I’m wondering, ricotta has been made for centuries…what have other cheese-makers used over the years?

    • Traditionally, ricotta is made with whey. The owner of Gagliano’s Deli in Pueblo is Italian and gave me the recipe for how I make ricotta…it is with milk and whey. And, is delicious!!! But, not as simple as the cheese with vinegar. Lindsey

      • Melina says:

        Ah, I always just added vinegar to the whey and collected what curdled. As an aside, I’ve always used apple cider vinegar.

        • I’ve used apple cider vinegar too, but like the distilled white better. If apple cider vinegar turns out to me the most petroleum free, GMO-free vinegar choice, I’ll switch to it. Thanks for the reminder!


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