“We do everything from scratch,” Cao said, “Starting with the fermenting of glutinous rice and an active flavoring ingredient such as lavender. This process takes about three months. Then we add the bacteria, and leave the brew to become vinegar. This takes a further six months. It is not a process that can be rushed.”
Despite the long production time and consequent costs, Liang said that more and more people are becoming aware of the damage that excessive consumption of processed sugar can cause to long-term health, and are willing to pay a premium for vinegar produced in a slower, more labor intensive fashion.
“It’s probably some of the most expensive vinegar made in Hualien,” Cao said. Despite its high cost, Liang said that they are planning to rent more warehouse space in order to meet demand. Cao has drawn on his knowledge of alternative therapies to develop 40 kinds of vinegar. Only six are regularly available: lavender; Eucommia (a tree bark widely used in Chinese medicine); chrysanthemum and wolfberry; rose and si wu (四物, a combination of medicinal herbs used particularly to treat menstrual pain); kumquat; and plain rose.
“Vinegar enhances the effectiveness of ingredients and is itself a great anti-bacterial agent. For example, kumquat is very effective for treating coughing. When added with vinegar, the vinegar kills the germs and the beneficial qualities of the kumquat can take effect in minutes. That’s how I think about,” Cao said.
Liang attributed the success of Love Vinegar to a growing awareness about the toll long-term illnesses can take, as well as a loss of faith in the effectiveness of western medicines in the treatment of these conditions. “Many people know that they are sick, but they don’t want to take medicine,” Liang said. “This is one reason why people have turned to products such as ours.”
With so many vinegars on the market, Cao said that consumers need to take care when choosing a product. “Any naturally brewed vinegar is good vinegar,” he said, “But so many products on the market simply steep various flavoring agents in vinegar or they contain petrochemical products such as synthesized alcohol. These types of vinegar have limited effectiveness for health.”