By Anna Pashkova, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP
Odds are, you may have heard or read raving reviews about apple cider vinegar or seen it make a more noticeable appearance on your grocery shelves in the last few years. The list of possible uses for apple cider vinegar seem to be endless–from potential health-related benefits (including claims that it could help with weight loss) to cooking and cleaning and everything in between. It’s no wonder that it’s become so popular. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best uses for apple cider vinegar.
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Before we get into the details of using it, it’s helpful to understand a little more about apple cider vinegar and how it works. Apple cider vinegar is made by crushing apples, then distilling and fermenting them. One of the main components of it is acetic acid, which plays a large role in most of the uses for apple cider vinegar. It’s made of approximately 95% water and 5% acid (mostly acetic acid, but may also have lactic, malic and citric acids) which gives vinegar its distinctive sour, pungent flavor. It also contains a very small amount of natural sugars, and natural compounds called polyphenols, which add to the flavor profile. Polyphenols, which are found in plants, have been shown to be beneficial for human health in numerous ways and are one of the many reasons that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is so important. In addition, apple cider vinegar has been shown to have some potential antimicrobial and antifungal properties which are thought to be due to the acetic acid, although research is limited at this time.
No matter how you choose to use apple cider vinegar, remember that it can cause some irritation of tissues in the body, from the skin on your hands to the mucous membranes in your gastrointestinal tract, so it is safest to dilute before use.
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar
So, what is apple cider vinegar used for? And how do you use it? Check out the four most common uses below, including what to be cautious about, and helpful ideas to get you started.
Vinegar is a common ingredient in many different types of cooking and is a really versatile ingredient. For example, it can be used to add flavor, preserve food, and help with baking. The flavor comes from a combination of the acetic acid stimulating our taste buds and the polyphenolic compounds that come from the apples it was made from. These compounds enhance flavor and add a hint of bitterness for complexity. The acetic acid in vinegar also works well as a meat tenderizer.
In addition, apple cider vinegar can make an awesome ingredient in salad dressing and in marinades for meat, vegetables and even plant-based proteins. You can also use a small amount to add flavor to sauces, dips and soups. If you love roasted veggies, a great way to add flavor is to toss them in oil and vinegar to add flavor before putting them in the oven. A little goes a long way! If you find yourself wanting to make a recipe that calls for buttermilk (like pancakes) but don’t have it on hand, apple cider vinegar can also be used to make homemade buttermilk. Simply stir in 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
The cleaning uses for apple cider vinegar are the same as distilled white vinegar, which is known to be a versatile natural household cleaner. Acetic acid, which is present in all vinegar, is what makes it an effective cleaner. White vinegar typically contains anywhere from 4% to 7% acetic acid, while apple cider vinegar is usually 5% to 6% acetic acid. When it comes to cleaning, the main difference between the two is the cost. Distilled white vinegar will be your more cost-effective option, but if you happen to have apple cider vinegar and want to use it for cleaning, the normal vinegar cleaning practices apply. With either option, it’s important to dilute the vinegar in water prior to using it to avoid any skin irritation or damage to objects.
One easy way to use apple cider vinegar to clean is to make your own “all-purpose” cleaning solution. The most common recommendation is a 1:1 or a 1:2 apple cider vinegar to water ratio. Since it’s meant to be all-purpose, you can use it on just about anything you’d use your normal cleaner for: countertops, glass, sinks, and more. The options are truly endless! It can also be used for laundry purposes in the same way you would use traditional white vinegar by mixing ½ cup of vinegar with 1 cup of water before putting it into your laundry machine to avoid pouring full-strength vinegar onto clothing. It can be effective at removing some stains and odors, brightening clothing, preventing colors from fading, and even cleaning the machine itself.
For some areas of your home, you may need a stronger cleaning agent. You can do this by combining apple cider vinegar with baking soda. This mixture can be used to remove scum, mildew, grease, hard water stains, and even de-clog drains. However, it’s important to be cautious before using it on a new surface as vinegar can cause some damage. Research online for recommendations, or clean a small area that is out of sight to test if it will cause any damage.
While vinegar can be a great environmentally-friendly way to clean, it’s not as effective at disinfecting surfaces as commercial cleaners or bleach. Keep this in mind when choosing the best cleaning method for your goal.
Two of the most notable compounds in apple cider vinegar, acetic acid and polyphenols, are believed to be responsible for its potential health benefits. However, data suggests that vinegar processing may alter the levels of some polyphenols, so if you’re reaching for the apple cider vinegar for it’s polyphenol content, it may be a better idea to grab a whole apple instead!
The most common health-related claims related to apple cider vinegar are for weight loss and blood glucose control. To date, only one study has evaluated the effects of apple cider vinegar on weight loss in humans. Results found that it may help with weight loss, however, the participants were also on a calorie-restricted diet and exercising so it is unclear how or to what degree the apple cider vinegar may have affected the weight loss. Another common claim is that apple cider vinegar can help with blood sugar control. This is thought to be due to the effects that acetic acid may have on starch digestion and gastric emptying. One recent systematic review and meta analysis of human trials showed some promising results, although additional research is necessary to learn more. Overall, these two potential health-related benefits need much more research to understand the safety, risks, benefits, and potential doses before any recommendations can be made.
It’s likely that you may have also come across other claims for apple cider vinegar cures out there, but it’s important to approach these with caution. Like with any non-traditional methods, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional so they can evaluate and discuss any potential risks. This is especially important if you’re taking any medications or have any existing health conditions. Vinegar can also damage tooth enamel if it’s consumed “straight” and not diluted first. With that being said, If you’re thinking about consuming apple cider vinegar for health benefits, the best (and arguably most enjoyable) way to do it is through cooking!
To learn more about apple cider vinegar and the “Apple Cider Vinegar Diet,” check out our Noom blog for a detailed guide.
Because of apple cider vinegar’s acidic nature, as well as it’s antibacterial and antifungal properties, some have suggested using it for things like skin and hair care. However, it’s important to note that there isn’t a lot of evidence for this. Similar to cleaning, any beauty-related uses should be diluted to protect your skin from the vinegar’s acidity. Some ways that people use it include as a facial toner, for acne, sunburn, and hair rinses. Again, there’s a lack of evidence to support these uses for apple cider vinegar and the biggest concern is safety and potential to cause dryness or irritation to the skin. It’s best to talk to your doctor before using it on your skin or hair.
The Bottom Line
Whatever the reason you’re using apple cider vinegar for, remember to weigh the potential benefits and risks. There are tons of different uses for apple cider vinegar out there, beyond what we’ve mentioned here. Noom’s favorite way to use it? In cooking! If cooking with apple cider vinegar sounds like something you’d like to try and is safe for you, don’t forget to add it to your grocery shopping list.