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Ultimate Guide to Apple Cider Vinegar (Incl. Buyer's Guide)

Researched and Written by:
Richelle Godwin, RDN Richelle Godwin, RDN Jenna Swift, APD Dietitian Jenna Swift, APD Dietitian

Deep in the dark, inner recesses of kitchen pantries all over the country wedged in between a box of baking soda and some Jell-O that should have been thrown out many years ago...lies a dusty bottle with an alien-looking, stringy and slimy substance. But now, thanks to the growing popularity of fermented food, more and more people are dusting off their long-neglected bottles and embracing Apple Cider Vinegar...once again. Let's look at what ACV is, how its made and how to use it!

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Table of Contents

    1. What is Apple Cider Vinegar?

    So Apple Cider Vinegar is simply FERMENTED apple juice. And I know, being the smart, health-conscious consumer you are, you’re probably trying to avoid drinking fruit juice...since it’s high in sugars. 

    But that’s the cool thing about ACV.  You see, the fermentation process actually REDUCES the sugar to almost nothing!  Something we’ll look at when we see how it’s made.

    2. What does ACV taste like?

    So for this article I’ve actually made some ACV myself and I have some right here...and boy do I know it! 

    Since this is a vinegar based product, it has a Pungent smell.  

    And look, because I really want to describe the flavor accurately for you...I’m going to take a VERY small sip. 

    Okay, so wow!  It tastes straight up like apple-infused MOONSHINE.  

    Before I can even describe the tasting notes to you, I’m too busy feeling the back of my throat burn like I’ve just shotted down some leftover Jose Cuervo.  I can only describe the flavor as being spicy, a bit sour, and extremely tangy, with some very light apple notes in the background.

    Thankfully, you don’t need to follow my lead and sip on straight ACV to enjoy it in your diet.  In fact, later in this article I’ll show you the easiest ways to add it to your favorite meals and drinks. 

    3. How is Apple Cider Vinegar made? (Recipe)

    Making ACV is pretty similar to other fermented liquids like kefir and kombucha. 
    And there are a lot of different ways you can make it. 

    For me personally, here’s how I made it:

    1. First, I roughly sliced up some apples.
    2. Then I combined this with filtered water, as well as some cane sugar...and I added that sugar to REALLY get the fermentation process going.
    3. After all of that, I covered it with a cheesecloth and was able to just kick back and let the fermentation gods work their magic. 
    4. This process took around 4 weeks.

    And in case you really miss your high school science classes and want to know HOW the apple juice ACTUALLY ferments and becomes apple cider vinegar, here’s my 30 second science geek lesson for you…

    So basically, the yeast goes full Pac-Man crazy, gobbling up all the sugars from the apple juice. And this in turn creates alcohol.  

    But don’t worry, you WON’T get drunk drinking ACV.  And that’s because the bacteria will then come in and CONSUME the alcohol and create beneficial acids, such as acetic acid.

    Here’s a FUN FACT for you - acetic acid has actually been used for THOUSANDS of years… long before refrigeration was invented… to help keep foods SHELF-STABLE and FREE of HARMFUL bacteria.  

    It’s like a guardian angel looking over our fermented foods.   

    Meanwhile, as the fermentation process is going on, the yeast and bacteria will start to CLUMP TOGETHER to form the stringy, slimy, strange-looking creature I told you about in the beginning of this article and we call it ‘THE MOTHER’.  
    This is the HEART AND SOUL of ACV.  

    And plays a SIMILAR role to the SCOBY in kombucha or the kefir grains in kefir.

    4. Where did it come from?

    Although Paul Bragg of Bragg’s Vinegar fame, kicked off the ACV trend in the USA some 100 years ago, ACV has been popular THROUGHOUT human history!

    In fact, it all started with SOUR APPLE WINE.  That was the FORERUNNER to apple cider vinegar.  And it’s believed us humans...were first making sour wine out of apples over TEN THOUSAND years ago.  

    Then of course more recently, like a couple thousand years ago...we started fermenting it longer such that we made apple cider vinegar. 

    Some records indicate Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who is known as the Father of medicine, was in fact one of our first apple cider vinegar hipsters.  
    Apparently he was dishing out ACV mixed with honey to treat a range of ailments such as coughs. 

    In addition to the Ancient Greeks, soured apple wine and its fermented juice leftovers that would come to be known as apple cider vinegar were ALSO used by the Ancient Romans, Persians & Traditional societies.

    And in more RECENT times, we even found accounts of soldiers using it throughout the 19th century to disinfect wounds, prevent scurvy and even polish their weapons

    And thanks to the growing interest in natural health, apple cider vinegar is now more popular than ever before.

    5. Best ways to use Apple Cider Vinegar

    So here’s the thing about apple cider vinegar, unlike other fermented liquids such as kombucha and kefir, you do not want to be guzzling this down or treating it like a drink.  

    Not only does it taste way too harsh, but as we’ll look at in a minute, drinking straight ACV can potentially cause some issues.  

    Instead, here’s my favorite ways to enjoy it…

    1. So the number one way..and probably the way that most people like to consume it, including myself, is by topping your SALAD with it, or including it in a vinaigrette dressing. It works really well to give your salad an acidic kick, and especially great with richer salad dressings. 
    2. ACV is also handy for pickling veggies, which helps PRESERVE them and avoid food wastage.  
    3. Another popular way to use ACV (and my OTHER favorite way) is by making a MARINADE with it, for meat and fish.  Just a teaspoon or two of ACV, along with some wine, garlic and herbs for example, can provide a perfect combination of sweet and sour flavors. 
    4. Now, if you want to drink ACV, then my best advice is to follow famed R&B singer Mary J Blige’s approach.  When asked what helps her singing, she replied “I have to have apple cider vinegar, with lemon, honey and water”. And this diluted and safer approach is the best way to DRINK it.
    5. And lastly, you can use ACV in homemade BONE BROTH, since adding a few tablespoons will help extract more of the NUTRIENTS from the bones.

    6. Potential risks of consuming ACV

    Although ACV tastes like some kinda apple-infused MOONSHINE, some people still want to guzzle it down like water. 

    But that’s a bad idea.

    You see, due to the high ACIDITY LEVELS of ACV, it can potentially cause damage to your teeth (mainly the enamel), as well as your mouth and throat over the long term.  Which is exactly why it’s better to either consume it with food or dilute it into a drink.

    The other big thing to watch out for is EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION.  

    You see, especially if done over a long period, this can POTENTIALLY lead to lower potassium levels in the blood - a problem known as hypokalemia.  And it can also POTENTIALLY reduce bone density, hello osteoporosis!  

    So like with all good things, moderation is best and I’ll talk about that in a second.
    In the meantime, if you want to dive deeper into the POTENTIAL ISSUES with ACV, check out our fermented foods comparison tool. 

    7. How much Apple Cider Vinegar should you take?

    So if too much ACV is potentially problematic, I guess you’re wondering...what is a safe level? 

    Well, here at Essential Stacks we like MODERATION.  I know, I know - it is boring!  But hey, our sole focus is getting you to FEEL AMAZING.

    So if you want to go the moderation route, consider taking 1 tablespoon, 1 to 2 times a day, and having that either diluted in 4 to 8 ounces (or 120 to 240 mils) of water or another drink, or use it in meals like we talked about before.

    8. The Buyer’s Guide To ACV

    If you’re ready to ransack your local grocer for every last bottle of ACV...here’s a few things to know BEFORE you buy…

    • For starters, buy an UNPASTEURIZED or RAW VERSION.  Both those words essentially mean the same thing, which is basically that the product has NOT been heated up through pasteurization.  Of course, the main benefit here is that any potential HEALTHY bacteria or acids in the ACV will still be alive and present.
    • Even better, try to find an unpasteurized ACV that is UNFILTERED. That means it should be a bit cloudy and also have bits of brown blobs found in the bottle. This might sound strange, but these little alien-looking strands are actually the BACTERIA we talked about earlier in the article...The Mother.  Seeing it is a good sign you’re buying the real deal.
    • Finally, when shopping for an apple cider vinegar, try to find one that uses organic apples.  After all, apples do feature on the “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables due to the potential pesticide residue.

    Our Conclusion

    Now that you know more about apple cider vinegar, I’m sure you’ve got a few questions, like…

    • How do I make my own ACV at HOME?
    • Or does ACV actually live up to the health BENEFITS you’ve read about online?

    Well, to find the answers you’re looking for, check out our free fermented foods compared tool.

    This is where our team of registered dietitians and researchers COMPARE ACV against kombucha, kefir, kimchi and a host of other fermented foods. 

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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