Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is one of those buzzy, trendy wellness products that continues to stand the test of time. While ingredients like goji berries have mostly faded into the background, apple cider vinegar can be found virtually everywhere, from drinks and “shots” to shampoos and hair treatments.
The cult of ACV lives on into the new decade—and with it, storied accounts of all its purported benefits for digestive, immune, and overall health. But the ingredient has pretty humble origins as, you know, just vinegar. It’s made by combining apples and water and letting it ferment. The process “allows sugars to be converted to alcohol, beginning the process of fermentation. Acetic acid is what ultimately turns the alcohol into vinegar, creating the apple cider vinegar that we see on shelves,” says Rachel Caine, MS, RD, LD, a dietitian for Baze.
As mentioned, apple cider vinegar is basically…everywhere. And you can certainly buy bottles of it at the store for just a few dollars and go on your merry way. But if you’re an ACV connoisseur and want to take your relationship with it to the next level—or you’re just looking for a fun new cooking project—you might consider learning how to make apple cider vinegar at home.
Remind me…what are the benefits of apple cider vinegar again?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, apple cider vinegar is touted to have all kinds of health benefits, from supporting digestive health to encouraging healthy weight management. But only some of those claims are legit.
“Like all vinegars, apple cider vinegar is rich in antioxidants—specifically coming from the apples conserved in the fermentation process,” Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, previously told Well+Good. It also contains probiotics, she said, which can help support a healthy digestive system. FYI: ACV won’t miraculously benefit your gut—you can still get good bacteria elsewhere, and the average person doesn’t need apple cider vinegar to have proper digestion.
There is also some potential for ACV to help stabilize your body’s blood sugar levels. “Most studies analyze fasting blood glucose and postprandial (after-eating) fluxes in insulin compared to apple cider vinegar intake,” Caine says, meaning that they look at how blood sugar levels are affected after food when ACV is consumed. She says that some research has associated apple cider vinegar intake with lower blood sugar levels—but more research is needed.
As for the other much touted benefits…take them with a grain of salt. Per Beckerman, there is very little robust scientific evidence proving that apple cider vinegar can do things like increase metabolism, lower blood cholesterol levels, or help you “detox.”
For a full reap on the benefits of ACV, check out this great episode of You Versus Food:
How to make apple cider vinegar at home
Yes, ACV isn’t necessarily the health end-all, be-all everyone thinks it is. But there’s no reason not to use it if you like how it tastes. And by making your own apple cider vinegar, you can save some money on pricey wellness drinks and DIY them yourself. Caine recommends following along with the ACV recipe from Wellness Mama.
The overview: You’ll partly fill a large jar with apple scraps (peels, cores, or apple chunks). Then, mix a few tablespoons of sugar into two cups of water until the sugar dissolves. Next, pour the water into a jug so that the apple scraps are completely underwater. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth, secure with a rubber band, and store in a cool, dark place for two to three weeks as it ferments. (Per Wellness Mama, you’ll want to stir the mixture once per day to help with fermentation and prevent mold growth.)
After two to three weeks, Wellness Mama says you should remove the apple scraps, then re-cover your jar with cheesecloth and store the remaining liquid in a cool, dark place for another few weeks to finish fermenting. (The whole process takes about six weeks, so be patient!) Stir it every few days. As the days go by, you can start tasting the liquid to see what you think. Once it’s at the acidity level you want, you can close the jar with a secure lid to end the fermentation process. Store the finished apple cider vinegar in your fridge for a few months and enjoy.
Beware: sometimes a gelatinous coating may rise to the top of your jar. If this happens, that’s a good thing! “You’ve created a vinegar ‘mother,’ which can be saved in the same jar as your vinegar or a separate container and used to start future vinegar-making ventures,” Caine says.
How to use it
Time to enjoy! “I recommend people use apple cider vinegar only if they truly enjoy the taste of it. For some, it’s an acquired taste while others love it right off the bat,” Caine says. It’s vinegar, after all, so it’s acidic and carries a distinct taste.
If you like it, you can add it to sauces, dressings (vinaigrettes mostly), and marinades. “The acid helps bring out unique flavors of the dish you’re creating,” she says. You can use it in brine to pickle things like eggs and vegetables, as a base for kombucha and tea, and also in vegan cheese recipes to bring out the sharp taste of cheese, she adds.
“If you enjoy the taste or are looking to experiment with ACV for possible health benefits, another easy way to incorporate it is by mixing one to two tablespoons with eight ounces of water,” Caine adds. This helps dilute it a bit!
However, don’t use your homemade vinegar for pickling or preserving unless you have a way to accurately test the pH and it tests below a pH of 5, Caine says. “This is for food safety purposes, as pickling and preserving food has to happen in a truly acidic environment to prevent bacterial growth,” she explains.
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