Apple-cider vinegar (ACV) has long been used as a folk remedy — and it’s recently come back into vogue, with a new health-minded generation exploring its virtues as a nutrition booster, body-care solution, and general health elixir.
“ACV is one of those all-purpose substances that’s also a classic food-as-medicine edible,” says functional-medicine practitioner Frank Lipman, MD, author of How to Be Well and founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. “It’s helped treat everyday ills for thousands of years.”
ACV’s healthy reputation is merited. Research into the antiglycemic effect of vinegar has homed in on its acetic-acid content, which appears to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels and to mildly suppress body-fat accumulation. The acetic acid in vinegar also may help manage high blood pressure.
Acetic acid contains antimicrobial properties as well. Though we certainly wouldn’t use ACV to fight off a serious infection today, Hippocrates reportedly had success using vinegar to treat patients some 2,500 years ago.
Fermented from crushed apples, ACV that’s raw and unfiltered includes trace amounts of B vitamins, as well as vitamin C and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. It also boasts bacteria that may boost gut health — potentially improving immunity and digestion.
Though more extensive clinical research is needed to back up recent claims touting ACV’s role in a heathy lifestyle, there’s certainly sufficient anecdotal evidence to warrant its application as a home remedy.
ACV is safe enough for most people to use daily, says Britt Brandon, author of Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks for Health, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you’re ingesting ACV, always dilute it or mix it into a drink or food; the acid in vinegar can damage tooth enamel, Brandon cautions. Start with as little as a teaspoon and no more than a tablespoon up to three times per day. Reduce the dosage if you experience unwelcome digestive changes.
- Heating ACV may reduce or even eliminate its nutritional impact, so try to use it at room temperature in recipes.
- If you are managing a serious health condition, talk with your healthcare provider before starting an ACV regimen to mitigate any unintended side effects.
- Be sure to use raw, unfiltered ACV — the cloudy kind with the stringy bits of culture, or “mother,” that ferments the cider to form the vinegar — notes Lipman. Highly processed versions, such as those used for cleaning or canning, are pasteurized and filtered.
- Curious about ACV’s many possibilities? We’ve compiled 20 of our favorite uses.
Nutrition and Cooking
1. Whisk together ACV, olive oil, garlic, honey, and mustard for a tasty salad dressing, suggests Evelyn Carmichael in The Essential Handbook for Apple Cider Vinegar. It’s ideal over salads, pasta, and vegetables.
2. Use in place of white vinegar for a more flavorful acidic tang in sauces and marinades, including coleslaw and homemade barbecue sauce, says Madeline Given, author of The Apple Cider Vinegar Cure.
3. Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons ACV into your favorite soup, stew, or braised meal just before serving. A moderate proportion won’t overpower the other ingredients.
4. Balance out sweetness with a touch of tart in a smoothie by adding up to 1 tablespoon ACV.
5. Brew 2 cups’ worth of green or black tea, and stir in 1 tablespoon each of ACV and honey, plus 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and cardamom. Serve hot or over ice.
6. Improve your scalp health, combat dandruff, and prevent buildup of hair products with ACV’s antimicrobial and pH-balancing properties, suggests Carmichael. Create a mixture of 1/3 cup ACV and 4 cups water; pour or spritz on your hair after shampooing (conditioning optional) and rinse with water.
7. Fight body odor with a DIY deodorant. Dilute 1 teaspoon ACV with 1 tablespoon water and use a washcloth to apply it to your armpits. For moisture reduction, follow by powdering with a one-to-one mix of cornstarch and baking soda.
8. Make a nail soak to fight fungus. Mix 1 cup ACV, 5 drops tea-tree essential oil, 5 tablespoons baking soda, and up to 3 cups of warm water. Soak feet or hands for 10 to 15 minutes.
9. Rejuvenate your skin and restore its natural balance of oils and pH with an ACV skin toner. Combine 1 cup warm water and 1/3 cup ACV. Soak a cotton ball in the solution and apply directly to the face and neck. Use once or twice a week, storing any remaining mixture in a cool, dark place.
10. Relieve a sunburn by adding 2 cups ACV to a bath of cool water and soaking for 30 minutes.
11. Discourage mosquitoes and soothe the itch and sting of bites with a DIY insect repellent spray made from 1 cup ACV and 1/4 cup water.
12. Help halt hiccups with the pungent aroma and flavor of ACV, says Brandon. Mix 1 tablespoon ACV with 1 tablespoon water, stir well, and drink between hiccups.
13. Drink 1 tablespoon of ACV in a glass of room-temperature water before meals for digestive support, recommends Lipman. Alternatively, suggests Brandon, stir 1 tablespoon ACV into 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, and top with fruit or blend into a smoothie.
14. Alleviate earaches caused by bacteria trapped in earwax by blending 1 teaspoon ACV with 1 teaspoon castor oil and 5 drops tea-tree essential oil. Dab a cotton ball into the solution, lie on your side, and rub along the outside of your ear canal, allowing a few drops to enter the canal. After five to 10 minutes, tilt your head to the other side to encourage ear drainage.
15. Tame flatulence with an “anti-gas tonic,” suggests Brandon. Add 1 tablespoon ACV, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon peppermint extract, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to 1 cup of water, and sip.
16. Prevent or cool the sensation of heartburn by drinking 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon ACV in a glass of water. Heartburn is often caused by low, rather than high, stomach acid, says Sally Fallon, founder and president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and coauthor of Nourishing Traditions.
17. Restore the “sour” setting of your taste buds and potentially reduce sugar cravings with a regular ACV regimen, suggests Fallon. Drink a mixture of 1 tablespoon ACV plus 1 tablespoon water twice a day, before lunch and dinner.
18. To reduce inflammation, apply a towel soaked in a mixture of one part ACV and two parts warm water to bumps and bruises, swollen joints, and irritated skin.
19. Reduce symptoms of varicose veins by applying a cotton cloth soaked in ACV to the affected area and elevating the legs for 30 minutes twice a day.
20. Help stabilize blood-sugar levels by incorporating ACV into a low-sugar, low-carb diet, advises Lipman. Dilute 1 tablespoon ACV with water and consume up to twice daily. (Note: If you’re taking medication to control blood sugar, check with your doctor first.)
Traditional Fire Cider
Try this spicy apple-cider vinegar elixir to boost your immune system during cold-and-flu season.
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus a month to infuse.
This classic fire-cider recipe also includes horseradish root, which has long been used to support the respiratory system, urinary tract, and digestive system. (Look for horseradish at farmers’ markets, health-food stores, and co-ops in the fall, winter, and early spring.)
- 1 cup yellow onion, minced
- 1/2 cup gingerroot, grated
- 1/2 cup fresh horseradish root, grated
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
- 1 orange or lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/4 cup rosemary leaves, loosely packed and chopped (or 2 tbs. dried rosemary)
- 1 tbs. ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
- 2 cups organic apple-cider vinegar, unfiltered
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- Sterilize a 1-quart canning jar and lid by simmering in a pot of water for five minutes; drain and allow to dry. Layer all the ingredients in the jar, except for the vinegar and honey. Press down gently to allow for at least 1 inch of space at the top of the jar. Slowly pour vinegar over the ingredients in the jar, allowing air bubbles to emerge to the surface, until the vinegar reaches the lip of the jar.
- Cut a square of parchment paper to cover the opening of the jar and screw on the lid. Give the jar a shake, and set in a cool, dark place. Shake daily, and after a day or two remove the lid and see if there is room to add more vinegar (due to settling).
- After the fire cider has been infusing for a month, strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Stir in the honey. Store in a clean bottle with a lid in the refrigerator. Enjoy a tablespoon once or twice a day, or add into drinks, salad dressing, or teas.
- Cook’s note: Some fun add-ins to try with this classic recipe are dried elderberries, hibiscus flowers, star anise, burdock root, oregano, beet-root powder, dried chamomile blossoms, rosehips, black peppercorns, or dried hot red chilies.
Betsy Nelson (a.k.a. “That Food Girl”) is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer and food stylist.
This originally appeared as “20 Uses for Apple-Cider Vinegar” in the December 2018 print issue of Experience Life.