What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Apple Cider Vinegar

Nadine Greeff / Stocksy

Apple cider vinegar is one of the most popular ingredients in the pantry. It's made by fermenting apples into a sour, pungent liquid that has long been used in food, drink, and chemical-free cleaning products. Cider vinegar enhances the flavor and texture of a dish and is found in a variety of recipes such as salad dressings, barbecue sauces, and healthy drinks.

Fast Facts

  • Shelf Life: indefinite, but 2 years for best quality
  • Varieties: filtered and unfiltered
  • Main Component: apples

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Also simply referred to as cider vinegar or ACV, apple cider vinegar is basically a liquid made from fermented apples. It has enough acidity to aid in breaking down cell walls in meat and tougher vegetables while also giving foods a tangy flavor.

Cider vinegar is made by cutting up apples, placing them in a jar filled with purified water, and adding honey or sugar. It is then shaken, covered with a cloth, and left to allow natural fermentation to happen, which will take three to four weeks. The mixture is strained, and the liquid left over is left to rest for another three to four weeks. At this point, it can either be used as-is or strained again. There may be bits of solid mass floating about the cider vinegar, which are pieces of the "mother," a combination of yeast and bacteria that forms to eat up the sugars and create the vinegar. It's not harmful and usually will sink to the bottom when the bottle is left to rest.


While a lot of brands of cider vinegar grace the grocery store shelves, they are all similar to each other for the most part. The biggest difference in varieties is between filtered and unfiltered. The unfiltered has wisps of the "mother" floating around the bottle, which some people consume and tout as beneficial thanks to the probiotics found in the living bacteria. Filtered cider vinegar, on the other hand, is clear with a reddish-brown hue and is best used for vinaigrettes and drinking vinegars.

How to Use Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar adds a nice tang and taste to dressings and sauces. Mixed with herbs and olive oil, cider vinegar makes an excellent vinaigrette, especially for hearty salads comprised of kale, arugula, or spinach, topped with nuts, cheese, beans, and seeds. It can also be used to lightly pickle vegetables like carrot, radish, and cucumber, which are delicious eaten on their own or when added to a sandwich.

Barbecue sauce also benefits from cider vinegar. Chefs in the Carolinas have used this vinegar for decades to make the famous, tangy condiment that pairs perfectly with roasted and smoked pork. Overall, apple cider vinegar is a great ingredient to add to recipes including rich meats to help tenderize and cut the fat.

Cider vinegar can also be used in drinks. A shrub is a vinegar-based fruit drink that's sour and sweet and is a refreshing beverage on a hot day. Sip it straight or add booze for a cider vinegar forward tipple. You can also spruce up a cup of cider vinegar with spices such as ginger, cinnamon, honey, horseradish, and garlic for the ultimate cold cure that also tastes good. Or, simply add to a glass of fresh juice for a little punch.

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What Does It Taste Like?

There's nothing subtle about cider vinegar—it has a pungent, lip-puckering, in-your-face taste. The flavor profile is as if sour candies were mixed with an apple along with the strong smell of vinegar. To really taste it, sip it straight, or mix with fruit to get the nuances of the ingredient without the strong tartness.

Apple Cider Vinegar Substitute

Although it may seem logical to grab a different bottle of vinegar to replace cider vinegar in a recipe, there are better substitutes. Equal amounts of lemon or lime juice, or double the amount of white wine, will offer a similar taste in recipes calling for cider vinegar. If you'd rather use vinegar, malt, white wine, white, and rice wine vinegars are good options. Keep in mind that white vinegar is more acidic and less fruity while rice wine is milder with a lower level of acid.

Cider Vinegar Recipes

Cider vinegar works well in salad dressings, condiments, as part of a braising liquid, and in certain drinks.

Where to Buy Cider Vinegar

Any grocery store should carry some brand of apple cider vinegar (sometimes labeled "cider vinegar"). Most bottles will be filtered, but if you're looking for unfiltered, search for one that is organic, or shop at a health food market or online retailer.


Vinegar lasts a very long time thanks to the acidic nature of the product, though it is recommended to store the bottle in a cool, dim spot of the pantry. If the cider vinegar is unfiltered, it might grow more if the liquid is placed in a warm area, so it's best to keep all types of cider vinegar out of the heat and sun.