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Vinegar is one of the oldest fermentation processes known to humankind — its discovery likely a happy accident after wine was left exposed for a day or two too long.

Vinegar was first produced from fermented wine and dates back to 5000 B.C.E. Written records reveal that the Babylonians used vinegar made from dates as both a preservative and a condiment, and experimented with different varieties of flavored vinegar through the addition of herbs and spices.

Around 2500 B.C.E., an ancient nomadic tribe developed a soured apple wine, the predecessor of apple cider. The word cider comes from the Phoenician phrase shekar, which means “strong drink.” This recipe made its way to the Greeks and Romans and eventually resulted in the creation of apple cider vinegar, a byproduct of the soured apple wines.

Ever since the wonders of apple cider tonics were discovered, many cultures have used this elixir for a variety of reasons. Thanks to the many benefits of apple cider vinegar, Japanese Samurai warriors were said to drink it for strength and power, Persian tribes imbibed to prevent the build-up of fat in the body, and Americans even used it as an antiseptic during WWI.

More recently, this seemingly basic pantry staple has exploded in popularity, as apple cider vinegar (ACV) proponents have touted it as a natural alternative to modern medicine for everything from weight management to skincare (according to Harvard Health, “apple cider vinegar weight loss diet” was among the fastest-rising health topic search for Google in 2017).

In this edition, we'll dive into the steps of ACV's fermentation process, the specific bacterial cultures mostly commonly found in the tonic, and how to properly store this versatile vinegar in your pantry.

What is Apple Cider Vinegar and Why Should I Care?

It comes from fermented apples

As you might expect, the first step to produce apple cider vinegar is to make apple cider. In this process, producers crush apples, add sugar, and expose the mixture to yeast, which kicks off the fermentation process. Alcohol is created as a byproduct of this process and then converted by bacteria into acetic acid (which is what gives ACV its strong smell and sour taste and is partially responsible for its health benefits). Once all of the alcohol is converted, then the mixture becomes apple cider vinegar. (Source)

There are two types: filtered and unfiltered

If you've ever purchased ACV at the store, you may have seen these two different kinds. While filtered ACV looks clear inside the bottle, unfiltered or unpasteurized ACV is cloudy and contains a stringy substance floating in the bottle. This strand-like substance, known as the “mother,” is the combination of yeast and bacteria produced during fermentation and is rich in proteins, enzymes, and gut-friendly bacteria (note: you want to buy unfiltered if you're planning to consume it for health reasons). (Source)

It has antimicrobial effects

Studies have shown that ACV can prevent the growth of unwanted pathogenic microbes, including strains of E. coli, S. aureus, and C. albicans, and downregulate inflammatory cytokines. ACV has also been shown to break down bacterial biofilms, which are glue-like membranes that bacterial colonies form to bind to your body. (Source, Source)

It's full of antioxidants

Apple cider vinegar rivals other superfoods in terms of antioxidant capacity. Apples possess very strong antioxidant activity due to their quercetin, catechin, phloridzin, and chlorogenic acid content. The fermentation process produces an even greater variety of phenolics and flavonoids. ACV itself contains organic acids, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals; evidence suggests the vinegar contains flavonoids associated with immune function and oxidative responses, including gallic acid, catechin, and ferulic acid, among others. One study found its antioxidant capacity to be on par with a high-quality black tea and about 32X higher than dark chocolate. (Source)

It's multi-purpose

In addition to its health-promoting benefits, ACV is versatile and can also be used for many other functions, including food preservation (studies show it prevents bacteria like E. coli from growing in and spoiling food), cleaning and disinfecting purposes, and even as a potential remedy for skin conditions, given its naturally acidic properties. (Source)

The entire end-to-end fermentation process (Source)

What Does the Research Show About the Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar?

Although emerging evidence demonstrates that a daily dose of apple cider vinegar can be beneficial for the reasons outlined below, most of the research done thus far has looked at the effects on smaller populations. Large-scale randomized control trials are still needed to better quantify the benefits of apple cider vinegar dietary supplementation.

It balances blood sugar levels

A 2019 study explored the effect of ACV consumption on diabetes and high blood pressure. The study found that in 70 diabetics on lipid-lowering drugs, ACV was associated with a reduced glycemic response. Ingesting 20 mL of apple cider vinegar daily for 8 weeks resulted in significantly lower fasting blood sugar in the treatment group (their levels dropped an average of 10 mg/dL, whereas the control group saw an increase of 16 mg/dL). Another study of individuals at risk for type 2 diabetes showed that regular ACV consumption (1 tablespoon at mealtime twice daily), resulted in greater reductions in fasting blood glucose levels than daily metformin (prescribed to improve insulin sensitivity) or rosiglitazone use. (Source, Source)

It can help you to feel full for longer

A crossover study in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that acetic acid, one of the active compounds in apple cider vinegar, helps to slow the rate at which food leaves the stomach in healthy people and those with type 1 diabetes. Another study found that drinking water with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar significantly increased the amount of time that food stayed in the stomach, compared to drinking plain water. Acetic acid can cross the blood-brain barrier through the colon to trigger the area of the brain that affects your appetite levels, suppressing your hunger levels, and making you feel full and satisfied for longer. (Source, Source, Source)

It's packed with live cultures

A 2017 research review published in Microorganisms showed that the most abundant strains found in ACV include Acetobacter, Komagataeibacter, and Gluconobacter. Lactic acid bacteria strains, including Lactobacillus and Oenococcus, are also commonly found but in lower amounts. In the study, the researchers discuss how different factors in the fermentation process can affect the types and quantities of bacteria in the finished product (e.g., cider apples picked from the ground after their fall contribute more bacterial diversity than those harvested from trees). (Source)

So What Should I Do About Apple Cider Vinegar?

Use it to wash produce

Remember: it's always a good idea to wash your fruits or veggies before eating them, even if they're organic (I walked through the 7 steps to clean your produce in the edition about pesticides). Before washing with water, you can use ACV to eliminate any germs or pesticides that might be lingering on your fresh produce. A 2005 study showed that ACV decreases the amount of Salmonella bacteria on fresh salad ingredients, like arugula. Add in some lemon juice to this concoction, as this mixture was shown to be most effective in fighting bacteria. (Source)

Use it as a natural cleaning solution

Thanks to its antibacterial properties, ACV can effectively clean everything from your kitchen counter to the bathtub. Simply add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of water in a spray bottle and use this solution to clean microwaves, windows, glasses, and mirrors (and you'll even reduce your exposure to toxic chemical cleaning products in the process!). In this case, it's best to use filtered vinegar for prime anti-stain action and to avoid making a mess. (Source)

Dilute it

Like all types of vinegar, apple cider vinegar is acidic, and its high acidity can be damaging to tooth enamel when served straight up (it might be time to retire those ACV shots you've been knocking back!). Diluting the vinegar with water or another beverage of choice is the best way to minimize tooth exposure to acetic acid and also make it more palatable to drink. Common dosages range from 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 mL) to 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 mL) per day mixed in a large glass of water. Pro tip: straws are your best friend. (Source, Source)

Incorporate it in the kitchen

As an alternative to beverages, consider consuming it as part of a meal. To incorporate apple cider vinegar into your dishes, try adding ACV to salad dressings, marinades, vinaigrettes, and sauces. You can also use it as a rub or seasoning, as an egg substitute in baking, or even use it to make bone broth. With its low PH, ACV acts as a solvent, helping to pull calcium and other minerals from the bones.

Where Can I Go to Learn More About Apple Cider Vinegar?

For DIY beauty recipes

If you already have some on hand, Bragg, producer of apple cider vinegar and other healthy condiments, features several DIY beauty recipes on its website for ACV hair rinses, face masks, and non-toxic nail polish removers. (Source)

On how to make ACV from scratch

Have some leftover apple peels or cores in the kitchen, or on a budget? This recipe will walk you through the step-by-step process to make ACV at home (note: it takes about 4 weeks to make so fermentation can occur, but the amount of hands-on time is pretty brief). (Source)

For summer spritzer recipes

If you're looking to spice up the water and apple cider vinegar combination, try out this Turmeric Lime Tonic or Sparkling Grapefruit ACV drink for a cocktail-worthy elixir.

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