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Apple Cider vs. White Vinegar: The Difference

White vinegar and apple cider vinegar, both acetic but oh-so-different. Find out which one is the real MVP in your kitchen.

Vinegar. Oh, vinegar! The tangy, zesty ingredient we know and love. The secret weapon in home kitchens all over the world, adding that perfect touch of sourness and sweetness to salads, soups, and baked goods.

But have you ever wondered about the different types of vinegar out there?

Or, specifically, about the difference between apple cider vinegar and white vinegar? Well, wonder no more, my friends, because we’re about to break it down for you.

While these two types of vinegar may look similar, they have some important differences in taste and uses. So whether you’re a cooking enthusiast, a cleaning guru, or just looking to add a little something extra to your diet, this post is for you! We’re about to delve into the unique properties of each and compare them side by side, so that — by the time you’re done reading and outta here — you’ll know which is best for what.

White vinegar is a popular household cleaning product that’s made from fermented grain alcohol. Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apple cider and is commonly used as a seasoning in food and ingredient in cooking.

Both apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar are types of vinegar, which means they are a solution of acetic acid in water.

Although they are both types of vinegar, they are made using different methods, apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar have different aroma, flavor, and color, and their acidity levels typically vary. Because of that, their uses and applications are not the same.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that vinegar must have a minimum acetic acid content of 4%.1Myers, R. L. (2007). The 100 Most Important Chemical Compounds: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press. Apple cider vinegar typically has an acetic acid content of 4 to 6%, whereas distilled white vinegar has a higher concentration, between 4 to 12% acetic acid.

Where Does Vinegar Come From?

Hey, vinegar lovers! Did you know that vinegar is the result of fermentation?

That’s the same process that makes your beer fizzy and your homemade dough rise. It’s all thanks to microorganisms like yeast and bacteria that chow down on the sugars and starches in food and produce alcohol or acid. And that’s what gives vinegar its tangy, tarty taste and natural preserving properties.

But it’s not just vinegar — most alcoholic drinks like beer, cider, wine, and whiskey are also made through fermentation.

Fun fact: the word “vinegar” actually comes from “vin aigre” in Old French, which means “sour wine.”

Leave a bottle of wine open for 2 weeks, and boom, and you’ve got yourself some wine vinegar. It’s all thanks to the acetobacter bacteria, which are everywhere (in the air, on fruit, even inside grape presses), that start munching on the alcohol in the wine and produce acetic acid as a byproduct. The more acetic acid, the more acidic and stronger the vinegar.

And let’s not forget, vinegar has been around for thousands of years! Historians have records of people producing vinegar as early as five millennia ago. The earliest evidence dates back to ancient Babylon, where they fermented figs and dates to make their own vinegar and used it as a condiment in cooking and even as a natural medicine.2Steinkraus, K. (1995). Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. Taylor & Francis.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Are you ready to learn about the magic behind apple cider vinegar?

How it’s made:

It all starts with apples, sugar, and yeast. Take those apples, crush them up, mix them with sugar and yeast, and — boom! — fermentation begins.

This vinegar making process is like a two-step dance. First up, we’ve got the alcoholic fermentation, where yeast bacteria go to town on the crushed apples and the sugar contained in them, turning it into alcohol.

Next, we got the acidic fermentation. It’s where those sneaky little acetobacter bacteria, which can be found pretty much everywhere, come in and colonize the liquid, feeding on the remaining sugars in the alcohol, and turning it into vinegar.

And there you have it, the secret behind apple cider vinegar. So, as it turns out, these bacteria are sugar fiends, just like you and me.

What to use it for:

When it comes to using apple cider vinegar, the possibilities are endless!

Apple cider vinegar is great for dressings, marinades, and seasonings. It’s also perfect for adding a little kick to your soups, stews, and sauces. Some even add a teaspoon or two to their morning smoothie, or just mix it with water, to make a tonic.

Another important aspect of the fermentation process for apple cider vinegar is something called “the mother of vinegar.” It’s a membrane-like material made up of strands of protein, enzymes, and good bacteria. It’s the MVP of the fermentation team.

And the best part?

Technically, you could even use the mother of vinegar to make new batches of vinegar at home. Yup, you read that right.

But what does it look like? Well, it’s usually a cloudy, jelly-like substance that can vary in color. Some people describe it as looking like cobwebs or a blob. Check out a photo of it below. It’s not the most attractive thing to look at, I know, but it’s a crucial part of the vinegar-making process.

Vinegar mother
The mother of vinegar

Now, if you haven’t really seen this before, here’s the thing: many apple cider vinegar producers filter out the mother before bottling their vinegar because it doesn’t look as visually appealing to consumers. However, by doing so, they’re also getting rid of some of the health benefits from the enzymes and the bacteria present in the mother.

How to buy it:

And so, when you’re picking up a bottle of apple cider vinegar for your home, always go for the raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized version if you have the option. It’s the most natural product that hasn’t gone through any additional processing, making it the best choice for you.

Distilled White Vinegar

Also known as “spirit vinegar,” white vinegar is a household staple, and for good reason.

How it’s made:

White vinegar is the clear, unassuming vinegar that packs a punch. It’s the most acidic and aggressive of all the vinegars, with acetic acid levels anywhere from 4% for pickling and cooking, to 12% for cleaning windows and removing stains from clothes.

Like apple cider vinegar, white vinegar is also made through the process of fermentation. In the past, households used to make it from sugar beets, potatoes, molasses, whey, and any other sweet or starchy fruits or vegetables they had access to. But these days, white vinegar is mostly made from grain.

Here’s how it’s done: sugar and yeast are mixed with grain, triggering alcoholic fermentation, which produces grain alcohol (also known as ethanol, the same stuff vodka’s made of). Since ethanol doesn’t have many nutrients, producers add yeast or phosphates to kickstart the acidic fermentation.

The acetobacter bacteria come in, colonize the liquid, and feed on the sugars, turning the grain alcohol into white vinegar. Finally, the white vinegar is diluted with water to any concentration between 4% and 12% based on the application.

What to use it for:

White vinegar is a cleaning powerhouse. Make a DIY cleaning agent by mixing ½ cup white vinegar with a half-gallon warm water. Use it to clean your floors, and when it gets dirty, just make a new batch. White vinegar is a great way to clean your home naturally, effectively, and inexpensively.

But remember that white vinegar is not just for cleaning! You can use it in your home kitchen for making marinades for meat and preparing brine for pickles. It’s the perfect ingredient for all your meat and vegetable preservation needs.

How to buy it:

When buying white vinegar, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, check the label for the acetic acid content. This is typically between 4% and 12%. A higher content gives you more bang for your buck — you can always dilute it down if you need to. Look for vinegar that’s made from grain, as it’s the most common and traditional way to make white vinegar.

Summing It Up

Well people, that concludes our vinegar-filled journey!

We hope you’ve learned a thing or two about the different types of vinegar out there and their unique properties. Like a fine wine, apple cider vinegar and white vinegar may look similar, but they’re each special in their own way.

Apple cider vinegar is like the fancy cousin, with its fancy fermented apple cider origins and gourmet uses. Meanwhile, white vinegar is the tough guy, with its high acetic acid content and heavy-duty cleaning abilities. So, whether you’re a cooking connoisseur or a cleaning king or queen, next time you’re at the store, you’ll know which vinegar to grab for the job.


  • 1
    Myers, R. L. (2007). The 100 Most Important Chemical Compounds: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press.
  • 2
    Steinkraus, K. (1995). Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. Taylor & Francis.


Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained chef with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.

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