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What to look for when buying apple cider vinegar


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Photo: Abby Maker for Well+Good
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Wellness insiders gush about their $4 bottle of apple cider vinegar just as much as they do their adaptogenic powders with sexy names and $25 vegan coconut yogurt. It’s the wellness world’s favorite shot. Throwing back ACV daily has been linked to boosting good digestion, regulating blood pressure, and even helping with joint pain—to name just a few of its benefits.

But when it comes to buying one, there are a few things to know. It turns out, not all ACVs are created equal. For advice on buying one brimming with benefits, I asked two experts—Danielle Omar, RD, and Vinegar Revival author Harry Rosenblum—for their advice.

Keep reading for two experts’ tips on buying the most nutritious apple cider vinegar.

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murky acv
Photo: Stocksy/Gillian Vann

It should look a little murky

Right away, Omar calls out two terms to look for on the label: unfiltered and unpasteurized. “This means it has the ‘mother,’ which is made up of good bacteria,” she says. Similar to kombucha, the mother can look a little, well, gross—like floating cobwebs. “Some people see it and they think it means the apple cider vinegar has gone bad, but that’s actually the part loaded with gut benefits,” our expert says. She explains that “unfiltered” means this good bacteria wasn’t taken out and “unpasteurized” means it wasn’t treated with heat, which can kill the aforementioned good bacteria.

Rosenblum adds that you should stay away from anything labeled “apple-flavored.” “This means the brand probably used apple juice and not real apples,” he says. “Some companies will commercially distill vinegar and then add color and flavoring to it.” For the record: It won’t have the same benefits, so buyer beware.

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how to but apple cider vinegar
Photo: Abby Maker for Well+Good

See where it’s made

“Something I like to do is look to see where the vinegar is made and if it is a place where apples are traditionally grown,” Rosenblum says. As someone who has tried his fair share of ACVs, he’s found that the best ones are USA-made, though there are some decent varieties imported from Europe. “I would be wary of apple cider vinegars coming from China, though,” he says. “There are much looser requirements there—it’s a little like the Wild West.”

He also recommends checking into artisanal, locally-made ones. (He’s especially into Sewall Orchard Organic, made in Maine.) But that doesn’t mean good-quality mass produced ACVs don’t exist. Rosenblum says Bragg’s—the most popular and widely available brand—is a good one, and another one of his favorites is Publix’s store-brand ACV.

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reading acv label
Photo: Abby Maker for Well+Good

Check the expiration date

Rosenblum says that most store-bought apple cider vinegars have an expiration date of five years—that’s a long time to be sitting on a shelf. “The bacteria is alive, so it needs oxygen to survive,” he says. “When it’s bottled up, no oxygen is getting in. A five-year-old ACV is fine to cook with, but it’s not going to have the same gut benefits as one that’s not as old.”

He says that the best way to make sure your ACV is as probiotic-rich as possible is to make it yourself. “Then, you’ll know it’s full of probiotics,” he says. Staying stocked up on a good-quality ACV is one wellness habit that’s easy—and won’t break the bank. If only your gummy vitamin addiction was just as accommodating, right?

While you’re at he grocery store, here’s how to pick out a kombucha brimming with benefits. And try not to make one of these food shopping mistakes even healthy people are guilty of