WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY DEFINES vinegar as 'a sour liquid used as a condiment, or as a preservative, and obtained by the spontaneous (acetous) fermentation, or by the artificial oxidation, of wine, cider, beer, or the like'. This definition only hints at the range of vinegars available. Vinegars are traditionally made by adding a 'mother' to wine, champagne, cider or other types of alcohol. The mother - composed of yeast and bacteria - floats on the surface of the liquid and causes fermentation, converting the alcohol into vinegar. It needs air, darkness and a steady temperature of between 15-30 degrees celsius. After fermentation, the liquid is strained, clarified and bottled. Any remaining mother can be used to make another batch of vinegar. Modern manufacturers have developed artificial methods to make vinegar without the mother. Vinegars can range in price from about $10 to $1,000. The cheaper, mass-produced vinegars are made through artificially induced fermentation, while the expensive bands take years to age, concentrate and mellow. The cheapest is distilled white vinegar, made from grain alcohol. It is harsh smelling and tasting and just a whiff can make your eyes water. This is best used for setting the dye on Easter eggs or mixing with water when hand-washing clothes to prevent the colours from running. It is good for cutting through grease when cleaning the kitchen. Mixed with other ingredients to temper the harshness, this vinegar is used to pickle vegetables, providing the familiar tangy, sour flavour. Other vinegars are made from drinking alcohol, such as wine, champagne, rice wine and cider. These have a milder flavour than white vinegar and are usually used in vinaig-rettes. Japanese rice wine vinegar is served with sushi. At the Hofex (Hotel and Food Expo) two years ago in the Convention and Exhibition Centre, one of the more interesting exhibitions gave away samples of fruit vinegars mixed with cold water. They were light and thirst-quenching, with a mild, pleasant tartness (peach was especially good). Fruit vinegar drinks are usually available in shops selling Japanese and Korean products. At the top of the vinegar tree is traditional aceto balsamico, made only in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy. The vinegar is aged in barrels for a minimum of 12 years. It evaporates as it ages, concentrating the liquid until it is a thick syrup. It has a unique sweet-tart flavour. Italians sometimes drink a spoonful of this vinegar as a digestif. It is an expensive habit, in Hong Kong bottles of aceto balsamico can cost almost $1,000.