The perfect vinegar? Maybe. Photo: Casa Stivalet

I am easily seduced by quality condiments and seasonings. I have bought yuzu kosho based on packaging alone. I can be convinced to buy a hot new harissa, or Kandhamal black mustard seeds that I want to pop in my mouth. But, until recently, vinegar is not a product I thought about too much. I once sprung for a pricey bottle of real deal Italian Balsamic, but otherwise I’ve been content with Braggs and your basic white vinegar. That all changed when I got a bottle of Casa Stivalet banana vinegar, which is made in Mexico and imported by the heirloom-bean gods at Rancho Gordo. (And unlike the authentic Balsamic, a bottle of this vinegar runs a reasonable $17.)

The word “addicted” gets thrown around far too much when discussing food, but I will say that I’ve grown extremely fond of this vinegar’s fermented, funky flavor — like a supercharged version of ripe bananas. It’s smooth enough that you can take a sip straight from the bottle, but it’s best for cooking.

This banana vinegar was the key ingredient in the simplest and best food I made all of last summer: a peach and Sungold tomato salad, cut up (but not too finely) to release the juices, with salt, a sprinkle of sumac, and a generous amount of the banana vinegar. Shake it up in the Tupperware; bring it to the beach. The mixture of the sweet fruit juices with the complex, acidic vinegar was irresistible to me, and for a while it seemed like this would be the only thing I ate all summer.

While I used the vinegar for a few other things as well, I started to get a bit judicious with it as the bottle emptied out, because when I went to order more, Rancho Gordo was out of stock. Given how the pandemic had affected supply chains, I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get some more. So you can say then that I was thrilled when I checked Rancho Gordo’s website — for maybe the sixth time — and found that the banana vinegar was back in stock. I promptly ordered two bottles, and started wondering if I should’ve ordered a third, and I imagined myself stocking an entire cabinet shelf with the stuff.

I held off on opening the new bottles until summer. Now that the weather’s warm again, my first order of business was to dribble a bit of banana vinegar onto raspberry ice cream. It was, predictably, perfect, so I drizzled a little more on top.

One of Rancho Gordo’s official recommendations is to use the vinegar for ceviche. I happened to have some Alaskan salmon recently, so I tossed half a filet in the vinegar, a splash of coconut oil, and Urfa chili. I’ve started thinking about other things I can use it in — why not a frosting for banana bread, for some banana on banana action? As I finished it, I fought the urge to order a third bottle of the vinegar on account of still having two others. Though, now I’m thinking it would make sense to order a bit more before it inevitably sells out again. I do have some storage in the basement of my apartment building…