Date Vinegar: A Middle Eastern Exotic

— by Ronit Treatman

What should you offer your “been there, done that” friends this summer?  Try some natural date vinegar.  This vinegar is unfamiliar even to people from the Middle East.  I saw this product for the first time on a shelf at the Makkah Market in West Philadelphia.  I purchased a bottle without knowing what it tastes like or what I would prepare with it.

More after the jump
Date vinegar was discovered in Babylonia (present-day Iraq) around 5000 BCE.   Babylonia was famous for its date palms.  When the fruit of these palms was harvested, the ripe dates were allowed to ferment until they were transformed into wine.  When the clay amphorae holding the wine were opened, bacteria in the air converted the alcohol in the wine into acetic acid.  The result was a dark caramel-colored vinegar with a sharp aroma.  Its flavor was complex and tart, with fruity undertones.  The ancient Babylonians used it to season food, and to preserve vegetables by pickling them.  

I asked Amal, one of the chefs at the Makkah Market, what she uses date vinegar for.  Amal gave me a wonderful suggestion.  “Add it to your labneh appetizer,” she told me.

Labneh at Gaby's Mediterranean
Labneh Appetizer With Date Vinegar

  • 1 ¼ labneh or Greek yogurt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Date vinegar
  1. Pour the labneh into a serving bowl.
  2. Trickle some extra virgin olive oil over the labneh.
  3. Drizzle some natural date vinegar over the labneh.
  4. Serve with hot pita and an assortment of cured olives.

Since date vinegar is an Iraqi specialty, I asked my Facebook friends from the Jews of Iraq what they suggest.  “I use it with my salad,” one of them wrote back.  Here is my interpretation of his suggestion.

Salad with Dijon Mustard DressingCrunchy Lettuce Salad Dressed With Date Vinegar

  • Very fresh Romaine lettuce
  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Date Vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cut up the lettuce and tomatoes.
  2. Add salt, pepper, olive oil, and date vinegar to taste.

I prepared these two dishes for a light summer repast.  I loved the complexity that the date vinegar added to my labneh dip.  It really intensified the flavor of the yogurt!  My fresh summer salad was enhanced by this unusual vinegar.  The date vinegar dressing reminded me of a balsamic vinaigrette, with a sweeter fruit undertone.  After enjoying it in these dishes, I realized that I should have acquired more than one bottle.  Date vinegar would be the perfect gift for any host!