From trapping fruit flies to giving vital assists during cold and flu season, apple cider vinegar is a must-have in many households. Oh, and you can cook with it, too.
Type of food: Vinegar
Origins: It’s important to note that when we discuss Apple Cider Vinegar, or ACV as it’s commonly referred to by its enthusiasts, we’re talking about the kind that says “with the mother” on the bottle. And it’s made from apple cider. “The mother in ACV is actually the yeast that helps the apples ferment. That means that the mother ACV holds most, if not all, of the nutritional value of the ACV, which is why it’s super-duper important you get raw ACV with the mother,” says Talia Pollock, a certified holistic health coach and founder of Party in My Plants.
ACV is made simply from the liquid that’s squeezed or pressed out of crushed apples, in addition to the beneficial bacteria and yeast that allow for the fermentation process; sugars are turned into alcohol, and then vinegar, in a second fermentation process, achieved by the acetic acid-forming bacteria, acetobacter.
Why/How Did We Start Eating It: You can thank the Bragg family, specifically its pioneer Paul C. Bragg, for popularizing the consumption of apple cider vinegar. It’s the most widely available apple cider vinegar (with the mother) in the country. Bragg healed himself naturally from crippling tuberculosis as a teenager and, among other things, is responsible for opening the first health food store in America (in Los Angeles, naturally). The company’s been around since 1912.
How It’s Used: The culinary applications for apple cider vinegar are pretty vast. You may have encountered its tart acidity in a salad dressed with a cider vinaigrette. It can be used in reductions or glazes, and also in small amounts as a finishing note in long-cooked braises and soups. Caitie Maharg of the Iris Inn in Virginia notes it’s great in bone broth.
Chef Brian Millman at Atwood restaurant in Chicago puts it to good use in pickling environments. It’s in the brine with champagne vinegar and cardamom pods for his beet-pickled deviled eggs. And the restaurant’s spicy house giardiniera, too.
It’s also commonly implemented in vegan baking; when added to nondairy milk, ACV adds an acidic brightness, mimicking the flavor and chemical role of buttermilk in batters and doughs.
How It ’s Purchased: You can buy ACV bottled in the supermarket and at farmers’ markets from orchards, as it’s not uncommon for orchards that grow apples to make their own cider vinegar.
Fermentation enthusiasts sometimes make their own ACV, either from hard cider, unpasteurized apple cider, or (most commonly) apple scraps. In many ways it’s not unlike brewing kombucha.
Sensory Experience: It’s tart and sweet and, well, acidic, with much more fruity complexity than the average white vinegar. Good ACV does taste and smell of apples, with an orchard essence. It is typically a pale to medium amber color, and unpasteurized or organic ACV has the mother, which you’ll know by its stringy, cobweb-like appearance in the bottle.
Nutrition and Other Benefits: Apple cider vinegar is revered as an overall health booster. It is high in potassium, and can help balance blood sugars. It’s also a reliable go-to when a cold or virus hits you. “The deal with ACV helping immunity seems to be mostly tied to the fact that fermented foods/vinegars like ACV help boost our intestinal flora (the good bacteria in our belly), which in turn can help boost our immunity and keep us generally healthy. Our immune system is closely tied to the well-being of our bellies, so the healthier our belly is, the healthier we are overall,” says Pollock.
To that end, some people swear by drinking a shot of it (preferably diluted) every day. Pollock recommends that newbies start with two teaspoons and work up to two tablespoons, diluted. And although it’s acidic, it’s actually good for treating heartburn, which doesn’t come from a glut of acid but actually the reverse. “This high-acid food can help reduce and even eliminate your issues. It works because most people have too little acid to properly digest food. As little as half a teaspoon a day can help,” says nutritionist and naturopath Christina Major of Crystal Holistic Health.
Pollock takes it a step further, saying that it can “dramatically improve your digestion by pumping up the amount of happy, healthy bacteria (enzymes) in your gut. It helps you break down and eliminate your food better,” she says. That being said, it’s good to help bloating, gas and the like.
Apple cider vinegar is good for the exterior of your body, too. Chef Erika Gradecki of Food For Your Soul has an unorthodox use for it—a remedy for poison ivy. “Just apply after washing the skin, and it’s [a] quick relief from itching and helps to heal fast.”
Carrie Havranek is a recovering music critic and part-time baker who writes about food, farmers’ markets, chefs and restaurants—and sometimes travel—from her home in Easton, Pennsylvania. You may have seen her work elsewhere in Edible Philly, the Kitchn, or Frommer’s.
Photo by Yvonne Esperanza CC BY