Vinegar is not just a common cooking ingredient now; it’s been used in cooking for thousands of years. Because of its acidity, vinegar imparts a sour or tart taste to foods, which can help balance out flavors and create a more complex taste experience.
Technically, “vinegar is a liquid consisting of about 5 – 20% acetic acid, water, and other trace chemicals, which may include flavorings.” Vinegar is made by fermenting ethanol alcohol. So, any ingredient containing ethanol can be used to make vinegar, including distilled grain alcohol, wine, champagne, beer, cider, and more. Throughout history, numerous ingredients have been used, from sweeteners like molasses, sorghum, and honey to fruits, including dates, berries, and melons to grains and even potatoes, beets, and whey.
So where did vinegar originate? And what’s the best vinegar for your health? Come along on this vinegar journey with us.
Where did Vinegar Originate?
Anthropologists around the world believe vinegar was known to ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, and its usage dates back to around 3000 BC. Egyptians, for example, appeared to use vinegar as both a condiment and flavoring ingredient in their dishes. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates used vinegar to help his patients around 400 BC. Sung Tse, the Chinese physician who was regarded as the father of forensic medicine, recommended using it, along with sulfur, as a hand wash, before surgery to avoid infections.
Vinegar was also present in Biblical times, and it was used as a tonic to improve health. Since then, it has been used all over Europe. Historians say even Christopher Columbus carried barrels of vinegar on his voyage to North America.
Because it is highly acidic, vinegar is naturally resistant to bacterial growth and spoilage, so it can be kept indefinitely in a closed container at room temperature.
What are the Different Types of Vinegar?
Red Wine Vinegar. Red wine vinegar is made from fermented red wine. It is mainly used for vinaigrettes and salad dressings and is excellent as a marinade for meat.
White Wine Vinegar. White wine vinegar is made from fermented white wine. It is mainly used in the same manner as red wine vinegar and is primarily an option for folks who don’t want to alter the color of their foods by using red wine vinegar.
Balsamic Vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is made from unfermented pressed grapes. Balsamic vinegar is aged just like wine, and the longer it is aged, the sweeter and syrupier it becomes. It is mainly used as a condiment for drizzling on savory recipes and desserts.
White vinegar. White vinegar is made from fermented distilled alcohol. It is mainly used for making pickles, ketchup, and bottled salad dressings. It’s also a great cleaning product, among other household uses.
Apple Cider Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is made from pressed fermented apples. The Vinegar Institute touts the tart liquid as one of our earliest remedies, and it serves a variety of roles, from beauty to homemaking to health.
Champagne Vinegar. Champagne vinegar is made from champagne and has a lighter taste than vinegar made from wines. It is, however, used in a similar manner as wine vinegars, including as a key ingredient in vinaigrettes, salad dressings, and marinades.
Sherry Vinegar. Sherry vinegar is made from none other than sherry, the Spanish wine. It is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of six months before being bottled. It is mainly used for cooking.
Rice Vinegar. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice wine. It is primarily used in Asian dishes, as it lends itself to having a sweeter taste, which is less harsh than standard wine vinegars.
Malt Vinegar. Malt vinegar is made from fermented barley that has been brewed into beer, then aged. It is most popular in England where it is used as a condiment for Fish and Chips. This is my favorite type of vinegar—can anyone say Boardwalk Fries?
And while all of these vinegars have their uses in the kitchen, what’s the best vinegar for your health?
What is the Best Vinegar for Your Health
The most popular vinegar in the natural health community is apple cider vinegar. It is claimed to lead to all sorts of benefits, some of which are supported by science, such as improved weight loss and lowered blood sugar levels, to name a couple. This all lays credence to ACV being the best vinegar for your health.
Apple cider vinegar contains about three calories per tablespoon. While it doesn’t contain many vitamins or minerals, other than a small amount of potassium, some brands of apple cider vinegar also contain amino acids and antioxidants. The Bragg’s brand also contains “mother,” which is strands of proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria.
Several studies have shown its positive effect on blood glucose levels. In a 2007 study of participants with Type 2 diabetes, for example, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed were shown to lower glucose in the morning by four to six percent.
Another study with patients who have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes showed vinegar reduces postprandial hyperglycaemia, hyperinsulinaemia, and hypertriglyceridaemia without affecting lipolysis (fat burning). This further confirms the glucose-lowering effect in people with glucose abnormalities.
Several animal studies have shown vinegar can reduce blood triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure. This could lead to a reduced risk of developing heart disease. The only human evidence so far is an observational study from Harvard showing women who ate salad dressings with vinegar had a reduced risk of heart disease.
In a more recent study using mice, vinegar reduced the food intake of obese mice and altered their gut microbiota, contributing to significant weight loss among the obese mice. Moreover, a high dose of vinegar achieved a significant reduction in body weight, improved serum lipid profile, and reduced liver oxidation and inflammation.
One study found that people who ate a piece of bread with small amounts of vinegar felt fuller than those who didn’t have the vinegar. I believe this is because of the delayed gastric emptying which resulted in increased satiety. In addition, scientists have theorized that apple cider vinegar may interfere with starch digestion, leading to fewer calories entering into the bloodstream.
While there are many who would argue that apple cider vinegar is the best vinegar for your health, I would not be so quick to make that claim. In fact, I would argue that apple cider vinegar by itself does not burn any additional fat or calories. What it does do is decreases your calorie intake for the day, which can lead to weight loss in the long term. So, it helps, but not in the way one might think.
Think of it like any weight-loss solution—the premise is to reduce your calorie/energy intake, directly or indirectly, which can result in long-term weight loss.
The Mayo Clinic has mentioned the following: “Taking small amounts of apple cider vinegar should not offer many risks, but taking in larger amounts on a regular basis could prove problematic. It is highly acidic and may cause problems ranging from harm to the teeth to lower potassium levels, lower bone density, and interaction with some medications.”
As with anything, never make any changes to your diet or supplement usage without first discussing with your physician or healthcare provider.