Woolworths shopper's strange find in vinegar - but what is it?

Brianne Tolj
·3-min read

A Woolworths shopper has inquired about an unusual ‘pikelet’ found floating in her bottle of white wine vinegar.

The woman said she purchased the Woolworths brand item from a store in Canberra in a post to the supermarket’s Facebook page.

“Umm, was wondering if you could maybe identify this pikelet-like situation I found floating in my Woolworths brand White wine vinegar please,” she wrote.

“According to the ingredient list there should just be vinegar. There seems to be no mention of small pancake pieces.”

The unusual ‘pikelet’ found floating in her bottle of white wine vinegar.
A Woolworths shopper has inquired about an unusual ‘pikelet’ found floating in her bottle of white wine vinegar. Source: Facebook

She said she checked the another bottle she also purchased but it is “without this unidentified floating disgustingness”.

“Super keen to hear what you think this may be,” she told Woolworths.

People horrified by floating object in vinegar

While some Facebook users were left horrified by pictures of the floating object, others were quick to notify the shopper that it was in fact harmless.

“Looks like a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) used in the production of kombucha,” one woman responded.

People stand in line outside a Woolworths at a southern suburb of Brisbane. Source: Getty Images
The woman said she purchased the Woolworths brand item from a store in Canberra in a post to the supermarket’s Facebook page. Source: Getty Images

“That’s definitely a mother that has formed. Looks creepy but won’t do you any harm - you can start making your own kombucha now!” another wrote.

SCOBYs are used in kombucha production and can sometimes be confused with mothers of vinegars, which uses cellulose and bacteria to produce vinegar.

Expert explains mystery find in Woolworths vinegar

Food safety consultant Deon Mahoney with the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology told Yahoo News Australia that vinegar undergoes an oxidative fermentation process that results in alcohol being converted to acetic acid-producing bacteria.

“The growth of these organisms results in the oxidation of ethanol (in the white wine, red wine, cider, etc) to acetic acid.

“As these organisms are strictly aerobic, this growth occurs at the surface of a liquid and results in the formation of a pellicle – which is like a fine skin.”

Typically, commercial vinegar doesn’t contain viable acetic acid bacteria because of the filtration process, he said.

“But opening the bottle can encourage the growth of cellulose-producing acetic acid bacteria that have not been completely removed in the filtration process.

“Plus, as the bottle in the Facebook posting has been opened and is only half full, there may have been contamination in the household,” he said.

The bacteria growth can cause a cellulose like that seen in the Woolworths shopper’s images.

“This enables these bacteria to access nutrients in the vinegar and sufficient oxygen from the air above.

“This cellulose scaffold then starts to bulk up and forms this plug as seen in the photo – and eventually it may sink under its own weight,” Mr Mahoney said.

It is a predominately aesthetic problem and does no hard to the consumer.

Woolworths responds to vinegar discovery

While the object is in no way Woolworths’ fault, a spokesperson for the supermarket emphasised it did not pose a food safety risk.

"We passed this customer’s report onto our supply partner for their awareness," the spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

"Our supply partner confirmed that what is inside the bottle is 'mother', which is a natural by-product of fermentation that makes vinegar. This does not pose a food safety risk.

"If the customer remains concerned, we’d be happy for them to return the product in-store for a full refund or replacement."

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