Making apple cider vinegar at home is a fairly easy process. It is easy and fast, and you hardly need much preparation. However, you do need some patience and waiting time. After all, good things come to those who wait! So in this guide, I will be telling you the secrets to making great apple cider vinegar at home.
How is apple cider vinegar made?
Apple cider vinegar or ACV making is a surprisingly simple process that yields a simply-amazing and versatile end product. It is made directly from apples with specialized sugar/yeasts, preferably in a wooden barrel.
Note that, although the word vinegar is used in its name, there is a huge difference when it comes to comparing other vinegars and apple cider vinegars.
Of course, all vinegars are made through the process of fermentation. For example, balsamic vinegar results from fermenting grapes, rice wine vinegar is a result of fermenting rice, and distilled white vinegar is made from grain bases.
Similarly, apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apples but the difference is that, in order to obtain apple cider vinegar, we ferment the apples twice. During the first fermentation, we get hard, alcoholic apple cider. This apple cider is then re-fermented to develop apple cider vinegar.
The importance of ‘mother’ in apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar that is raw, unprocessed, unfiltered, and organic contains the ‘mother’ strands.
The mother in the vinegar can be seen as webbed strands or sediments floating around at the bottom of the undisturbed vinegar. This is the only helpful and beneficial variation of apple cider vinegar.
Only apple cider that contains the ‘mother’ enzyme can impart health benefits which it is so famous for. When you make apple cider vinegar at home, you can be assured of it containing the mother. Commercially prepared apple cider vinegars are often filtered and pasteurized and both these processes destroy the mother enzyme.
What creates the mother in the vinegar?
The double fermentation is what gives rise to the mother enzyme. That is why it is so important to use the sweetest apples for making ACV. The higher the sugar content, the faster and better the rate of fermentation, since the yeast and beneficial bacteria require sugar for fermentation.
The sugar and pectin in apples reacts with beneficial yeast and bacteria to form the residue that we call mother. So do not be alarmed to see ‘webbed and murky’ stuff floating around in your homemade ACV. This is what holds all the nutrition and healing properties.
Even when you buy apple cider vinegar, always choose a product that is ‘mother-heavy’. This will help you differentiate between the high quality vinegar and the cheaper, low-quality alternatives.
Making ACV at home
As stated before, making apple cider vinegar at home is a fairly easy process. The key is to choose the sweetest, organic apples for the recipe. It is best to use wooden barrel or glass containers for the process as these help with mother retention. I will talk about this in detail, a little later.
There are two very important factors to pay attention to when it comes to making apple cider vinegar. These are:
- Oxygen supply – Oxygen needs to reach throughout the liquid for adequate fermentation. So, for this, you need to stir the ferment from time to time. Stirring will allow the air to reach the bottom of the ferment. It is for the same reason that we use cheesecloth or filter paper to cover the vinegar jars instead of regular lids. This allows air to incorporate throughout the vinegar.
- Temperature – The temperature of fermentation should ideally be between 60° and 80°F. Lower temperatures do not produce usable vinegar and higher temperatures could interfere with formation of the mother enzyme.
Container for making apple cider vinegar
Wood is the best material to make apple cider vinegar as it does not react to the acids.
Traditionally, ACV is made in large wooden barrels. This helps retail the mother enzymes. However, these days, it can be difficult to find wooden jars, so the next best thing is glass or plastic.
Never use metallic containers as the acid in the vinegar can corrode the metal or aluminum. You can also use enamel or stainless steel containers.
Apple cider vinegar making involves some basic steps:
- Cider making
- Yeast fermentation – This changes fruit sugar to alcohol.
- Acetic acid fermentation – This step changes the alcohol into acetic acid.
- Filtration and clarification – This prevents further fermentation and decomposition.
Step 1 – Cider making
You can make the cider from any varieties of apples. Fall and winter apples are the best as they contain higher amounts of sugar compared to green apples and I have already explained how important sugar content is to the vinegar making process.
Gather the fruit and wash it well. I cannot stress enough the importance of using organic apples for the job. You do not want chemical or pesticide-treated apples. Use organic apples only. Also, avoid rotten apples. The best apples for making ACV at home are soft, bit aged, and with withered skin.
After washing, peel and core the apples. Crush the apples using a food processor or blender. You can chop the apples roughly and add them to the processor or blender with enough water to cover the apples. Blend the mixture on high speed for about 2 minutes or until the mixture is smooth. Strain the apple pulp to remove the juice. Always use cheesecloth for straining.
Step 2 – Starter making
Like all fermented foods, apple cider vinegar also needs a starter for making. These days, starters are readily available everywhere. You can also get apple cider vinegar starters from wine-making shops and biological labs. Do not use bread yeasts for making the ACV.
There are several ways of making ACV starter at home:
- Simply crumble one cake of yeast into one quart of cider obtained in the above step. This will make enough starter culture for 5 gallons of ACV.
- You can also make a starter for your ACV at home using the following steps:
Simply collect the foam that forms on top of ‘bruised-but-not-rotten’ apples, including the peels and cores, submerged in warm water mixed with some sugar. You can use any raw sugar such as Muscovado, Cane, Demerara etc. Let this apple-water-sugar mixture stand for three days in a warm place. On the third day, collect the foam formed on top and add it to the apple juice or crushed apples as starter for making the ACV.
- Alternatively, you can add store-bought apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar, or a combination of half store-bought vinegar and half dry, white wine for making the apple cider vinegar.
Step 3 – Alcohol and acid formation
Strain the apple-water mixture into a glass pitcher or wooden barrel or plastic container with spigot. Do not use metal container. You have to measure the amount of juice-water collected. To this, add equal quantity of ‘starter’. Thus, if you are using vinegar-wine starter, then measure out the vinegar and wine and, combined together, they should equal the amount of apple juice-water mixture.
Make sure that the containers with the combined starter-juice-water mixture still have about three-quarters room on top for expansion. Do not close the lids of the container as you must stir the containers daily. You can use a cheesecloth or filter paper on the bottle/container.
Keep the containers in a clean, dry place, away from heat and sunlight. Maintain the ambient temperature between 60° and 80°F. You can use heating pads, or store the mixture in an unused oven with the light on.
Allow the mixture to stand for at least three days, though full fermentation takes about 3 weeks. Stir the mixture daily. At some point, the mixture will start smelling like vinegar. Taste the samples until you are satisfied with the flavor and strength.
Step 4 – Filtration
When the vinegar is ready and you are satisfied with the strength and flavor, you must filter it to stop fermentation. You can use the fine cheesecloth of filter papers. Filtration removes the mother enzymes and stops fermentation process and spoilage. You can keep a bit of mother enzyme for its healing benefits.
Step 5 – Storing your vinegar
Once the vinegar is filtered, it is ready to be stored. You can use the vinegar almost indefinitely as it does not spoil. Some people like to pasteurize their vinegar to prevent spoilage and that makes it last even longer. However, pasteurization involves heating which can reduce the health benefits of the vinegar.
To pasteurize, heat the vinegar before storing it in sterilized bottles. (You can also first bottle the vinegar and then place it in a hot water bath.) In both cases, the temperature of the vinegar must reach at least 140°F. This will sterilize the product and kill harmful bacteria. Never let the temperature exceed 160°F. So, use a food thermometer to measure the temperature. Cool the containers and store them out of direct sunlight.
Enjoy your apple cider vinegar in recipes, salad dressings, soups, sauces, or simply drink it with water or juice for detoxification and weight loss. Add a dash of honey, molasses, agave nectar or Stevia to sweeten its pungent taste a bit.
Don’t forget to check out my article on apple cider vinegar benefits for skin and hair.