Vinegar has long been a part of human culture, with its first recorded use dating back to a whopping 7,000 years ago! Around this time, the ancient Babylonians are thought to have fermented the fruit of the date palm to create both wine and vinegar to be used as a drink and preservative. Little did they know when they left their wine to ferment just a little too long and created vinegar that humanity had just stumbled across one of the most powerful health foods and natural cleaning agents available.
And, as they say, the rest is history. The ancient Egyptians caught onto the vinegar craze and began utilizing its many benefits around 3,000 BCE, as evidenced by vinegar residues found in 5,000-year-old urns. Next in line were the Romans, who incorporated different types of vinegar into their culture to make delicious dips for their bread, salve for their wounds and pickling agents for food longevity. Around the same time, various Chinese civilizations were busy making vinegar from their plentiful stocks of rice.
By the 10th century AD, the Chinese saw just how valuable rice wine vinegar really was, using it regularly to sanitize hands, prevent infections and clean wounds. Vinegar even made it to the United States early in the game, with 18th-century American health practitioners using it to treat a range of conditions, including poison ivy, stomach ache, fever and edema. It turns out our ancestors were on to something!
Despite a long recognition of the amazing cleaning and health-giving properties of vinegar, it was not until recently that America and the rest of the Western world began to realize its true potential other than a pickling or flavoring agent. Even today, ask the average person what they use vinegar for and they’ll probably reply that they only bust it out of the cupboard to pickle some fruit or vegetables, provide the preservative base for various conditions, or occasionally add it to their favorite dish to zest things up a little.
While these are all great uses, there’s so much more you could be doing with that bottle of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar! Here we’ll look at how vinegar is made, the most commonly available varieties of vinegar available on supermarket shelves, and some of the many great uses for your body and around the home… including warding off cancer!
What is Vinegar?
Vinegar is made from a range of diluted alcohol products, the most popular being wine, beer, cider and rice. The process by which vinegar is formed involves the fermentation of ethanol by particular bacterial strains, which break down the ethanol into byproducts, the most important of which is acetic acid. This is what gives vinegar its kick, and more importantly it’s preserving and antibacterial abilities. The resulting vinegar also contains many of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients which were found in the original food it was made from.
Varieties of vinegar are wide ranging, including red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar and sherry vinegar. There’s even a vinegar made from champagne… who knew?
Natural Benefits of Vinegar
The benefits of vinegar are almost too numerous to name, although I’ll try my best! Vinegar owes it’s cleaning and health-giving properties to various bioactive components, including acetic acid, gallic acid, caffeic acid, catechin and epicatechin. It can be used as a great source of antioxidants, as an antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial agent, and as a powerful probiotic.
Vinegar and Cancer
Different vinegars contain different kinds of antioxidants, which are compounds that inhibit the oxidative damage of free radicals in your body. Antioxidants play a critical role in protecting your cells, helping to slow the process of aging and prevent the mutation of cells (and hence the development of disease).
A traditional Japanese rice vinegar called kuroso, for example, has been shown to be a powerful tool in the fight against cancer. Studies indicate that the antioxidants in kuroso inhibit the growth of many cancer cells, including colon, breast, lung, bladder and prostate. Another vinegar from Japan called kibizu, this time made from the fermentation of sugar cane, shows promise in inhibiting the growth of leukemia cells.
Vinegar and Harmful Pathogens
Vinegar is loaded with compounds which make it highly antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial, providing a powerful natural cleaning agent. When vinegar is added to food, the acetic acid and other organic compounds in vinegar penetrate cell membranes and kill harmful bacteria… meaning you don’t have to worry so much about whether that chicken you just ate was a little too far beyond it’s use-by date for comfort.
When used around the home, these same acidic compounds help to break down accumulated grime and dirt and sanitize surfaces, making it one of the healthiest, most effective cleaning liquids available today.
Vinegar and Diabetes
One of the most celebrated benefits of vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar (ACV), is the positive effect it has on blood sugar levels. The acetic acid found in vinegar has been shown to lower blood sugar by inhibiting the digestion of complex carbohydrates, possibly via the inactivation of certain digestive enzymes responsible for metabolizing carbohydrates into sugar. Slowing the digestive process down in this way gives your body more time to utilize sugar from your blood, thereby preventing sugar level spikes.
In addition to its blood sugar balancing benefits, vinegar has also been shown to be an effective treatment for diabetes. A 2004 study found that consumption of vinegar helped to improve insulin sensitivity in 1 out of every 5 individuals, while over one-third of those with pre-diabetes had a measurable improvement in insulin sensitivity.
Vinegar and Weight Loss
Many studies have proven that vinegar can promote weight loss, due to increasing feelings of satiety. For this reason, consuming vinegar before meals can stop you from overeating, making you feel full more easily and even preventing you from reaching for those salty or sugary snacks between meals.
In one study, people who consumed a small amount of vinegar along with a high-glycemic meal (consisting of a bagel and juice) were found to have a “significantly reduced postprandial glycemia.” In normal person’s talk, that means their blood sugar levels didn’t spike as high, so these people were less likely to experience the diabetic symptoms which often lead to weight gain.
Vinegar and Nutrient Absorption
The high concentration of acetic acid found in vinegar can actually help your body to more effectively break down stubborn food compounds, such as proteins and fats. These compounds often contain much of the nutrients in the food, meaning more efficient digestive breakdown results in a higher uptake of nutrients from your food. For this reason, simply having a sip of apple cider vinegar with your salad or sprinkling some delicious balsamic vinegar as a dressing can significantly increase the health benefits of your meal.