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Apple Cider vs. Apple Cider Vinegar: What’s the Difference? 

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Apple cider and apple cider vinegar are mainly different because of their taste and uses. Apple cider is a sweet drink made from apples, usually imbibed hot in the fall, with added sugar. Apple cider vinegar is vinegar used for cooking, not to drink in large quantities. 

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) and apple cider are both made from apples, but that’s the extent of their similarities. Below, I will talk about how apple cider vinegar and apple cider are different. 

Are Apple Cider and Apple Cider Vinegar the Same?

We’ve all been there: you have a recipe pulled up and have most of it chopped, prepped, and cooked when you realize you are missing an ingredient. Or, the kids have a science project due in the morning, and there’s one vital thing on the list not in your fridge. You might have thought you could get creative by replacing apple cider with apple cider vinegar or vice versa. 

Apple cider and apple cider vinegar are not the same. Apple cider is a drink made with sugar and is often consumed hot but sometimes cold. Apple cider vinegar is often used in cooking and sometimes cleaning or as a natural home remedy.

Unfortunately, apple cider and apple cider vinegar are not interchangeable. If your recipe calls for one and you don’t have any on hand, the other will not make a suitable replacement. You should be able to tell that they are vastly different products just with a quick whiff: apple cider vinegar has a strong, pungent, sour smell and apple cider usually smells sweet.

The table below highlights the main differences between apple cider and apple cider vinegar:

Apple CiderApple Cider Vinegar
IngredientsApples, Water, Cinnamon, Sugar, Maple syrup, Allspice Fermented juice from apples
Approximate Cost$6/gallon$5.50/32 fl oz. 
UsesDrinkingCooking
Cleaning
Pest control on plants
Treating colds
Weight loss supplement
Glucose control and diabetes
Process To MakeFresh apples sliced, crushed, and steeped in hot water with cinnamon, sugar, maple syrup, or allspice addedFermentation of apple juice made from crushed apples 
Taste SweetBitter, sour

Some may not know that if apple cider is left out on a counter or is sitting out in the hot sun, it may eventually ferment and become alcoholic or like vinegar. Traditionally, though, apple cider is an unfermented drink made for recreational drinking. On the other hand, Apple cider vinegar is so bitter to the taste that even those who do drink it for its health benefits stick to a tablespoon or less a day. 

How Is Apple Cider Made?

Apple cider is a drink traditionally made and consumed in the fall, but it can be consumed year-round. This drink is a staple of harvest festivals, and its origins may go as far back as BCE and Julius Caesar. You’ll be hard-pressed to find it on the shelves during the Spring or Summer, but it’s an easy recipe to make. 

Apple cider is made by juicing fresh apples and then letting this juice simmer over a hot flame for a few hours. Some add other things to it, such as sugar, cinnamon, or maple syrup. Others add alcoholic mixtures like vodka to apple cider. 

This video gives you a quick, easy breakdown of how Apple Cider can be made:

Usually, you’ll chop and mash-up apples like you will make applesauce. Then, you will use a milk cloth or thin towel to squeeze the excess juice out of the apples. Some boil the water in a pot or crockpot and then mash their apples. 

The simplest apple cider is made with just apple and water. However, some add oranges, lemon, cinnamon, sugar, allspice, or syrup.  

How Is Apple Cider Vinegar Made?

Three jars with apples floating while making homemade apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made through a long, detailed fermentation process. Fermentation is what makes boozy drinks alcoholic and can create probiotics in things like kraut or kombucha. 

Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting juiced apples. Fermenting is breaking down the glucose in sugar or yeast-based food and making it into organic acid, gas, or alcohol. Fermented apple juice becomes apple cider vinegar. 

Though it isn’t as simple or straightforward, apple cider vinegar can also be made home. It’ll take more time than apple cider because it has to ferment. This video shows one of the simpler ways to make apple cider vinegar at home:

Like apple cider or apple juice, you’ll dice up some apples and add water. You’ll leave your vinegar and water mix anywhere from 2-7 days, and then move your apples around, so they don’t get moldy. You’ll also need to add sugar for this to work because glucose needs to be broken down during the fermentation process to make the natural acids.

You’ll repeat this process until the fermentation process is complete. This can take six weeks more. 

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar Used For?

Apple cider vinegar is extremely versatile and is used for a variety of things. It is not interchangeable with apple cider or apple juice. You can usually lump it into a category with your common household vinegar. 

Apple cider vinegar is intended for cooking, but some health fanatics use it as a means of weight loss control, probiotic, or glucose control. Additionally, ACV comes in handy for cooking as a natural replacement for some cleaning supplies and can also be used as pest control for your plants. 

This is a versatile list of uses. Below, I will expand on each of them to understand what it is about ACV that makes it a candidate for these various purposes. 

Cooking

Like most kinds of vinegar, ACV is used in cooking because of the acidic aspect it brings to any dish. Fat, salt, acid, and heat are the best combination when it comes to savory dishes. Apple cider vinegar is commonly used as one of those acids, bringing its bitter flavor to the dish subtly. ACV can be used in common recipes such as:

  • Honey garlic chicken
  • Salmon
  • Chili
  • Brown Sugar Cider Vinaigrette
  • Birria tacos

The acidity yet subtle sweetness also makes it a great substitute for wine, champagne, or rice kinds of vinegar in various recipes. It can be used in the same quantities as any other vinegar in a recipe. And more.  

Cleaning

Apple cider vinegar is also sometimes used in cleaning. Many people have begun using more natural cleaners versus the ones from the store that come packed with chemicals. You may already be aware of vinegar as a floor cleaner or help rid your veggies of lingering pesticides. Apple cider vinegar can also be used for this. 

If you’re looking for homemade cleaner supplies, look no further than a bottle of pure ACV. Once diluted properly with water, ACV can be made into:

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Laundry cleaner
  • Removing substances from a surface (such as wax)
  • Remove water stains
  • Cleaning washing machine
  • Window cleaner
  • Stain remover 

For obvious reasons, apple cider cannot do any of these things. It takes the fermentation process and the addition of natural acids to work in ACV. 

Pest Control on Plants

Natural gardeners have often turned to apple cider vinegar as pest control. Its strong, sour smell often repels bugs, and its acidic nature becomes lethal when it crosses paths with an insect. 

Those looking to get pests off of their plants or out of their garden also use ACV. Typically, gardeners dilute ACV with water and then add dish soap, making the solution more sticky. Then, with a spray bottle or a Q-Tip, they can add it to their plant and watch as bugs die or become deterred from laying eggs near their plants. 

Treating Colds

ACV has been used since the late 1800s for medicinal purposes. Though there’s not a lot of research to back up the claim that ACV cures a cold, many have used it as a natural home remedy when they are starting to get that all-too-familiar cold feeling creeping in. Apple cider vinegar has also been proven beneficial for treating the common cold. 

Modern-day, you can make homemade cough medicine, a throat rub, or grab some apple cider vinegar pills to use as supplements for an immunity boost. 

Weight Loss Supplement 

Apple cider vinegar has gained popularity in the health community for its apparent connection to weight loss. A study found that drinking ACV each morning in small quantities may help with moderate amounts of weight loss when paired with diet and exercise. 

However, this conclusion isn’t enough to pair weight loss and ACV together. This video aired on ABC news, further pushing the narrative that ACV can be used for weight loss:

Regardless of its actual validity as a weight loss supplement, you can find tons of products online advertising ACV for weight loss. As ACV made headlines for its diet support effects, some companies took to making ACV in pill or gummy form to keep the bitter taste at bay. 

Glucose Control and Diabetes

The connection between weight loss and ACV is still unclear. Still, many studies have shown that apple cider vinegar can help individuals with diabetes. These studies concluded that apple cider vinegar, when consumed in small quantities after meals, could help lower blood sugar. Another study found that it could support glucose control.  

What Is Apple Cider Used For?

Apple cider in gallon jugs with apples in the background

It might seem unfair that I listed all the various uses of apple cider vinegar and then apple cider. Compared to ACV, apple cider has very few uses. However, it does what apple cider is supposed to do very well.

Apple cider is typically used for recreational drinking and sometimes used for cooking. Hard alcoholic ciders can be made with apple cider, and some recipes call for apple cider instead of water. Traditionally, apple cider is consumed during the fall. 

Some communities make apple cider a huge part of their fall celebrations with festivals or apple cider-making contests

Drinking Cider

Apple cider is a popular drink during the fall because that’s when apples are in season in the U.S. Additionally, the alcoholic sister to apple cider can be made in numerous different ways, supporting boozy celebrations during the harvest. 

Some add vodka or hard liquor to their cider. Others make their apple cider fermented (no, not the apple cider vinegar kind of fermentation) to create hard, alcoholic cider.

Cooking With Apple Cider

A few recipes may call for apple cider rather than regular water. Most of these recipes will be apple cider-themed, such as these apple cider donut bars or this apple cider bundt cake. Otherwise, apple cider isn’t a common ingredient if you aren’t trying to achieve some sort of apple flavoring. 

What Can I Substitute for Apple Cider While Cooking?

If you have come upon one of those rare recipes that ask for apple cider and you’re fresh out, there are a few options for replacing it. 

While cooking, you can substitute apple juice, lemon juice, or a dry hard cider for apple cider. You can also make your own apple cider using crushed or juiced apples, add them to hot water, and then let them steep.

Again, do not replace your apple cider vinegar, no matter how similar the names sound. Look for something with the same sweet, non-acidic taste as the recipe. 

What Can I Substitute for Apple Cider Vinegar While Cooking?

If you’re disappointed that the can of apple juice in your fridge won’t suffice as an adequate replacement for ACV in your recipe, don’t stress. There’s likely another substance in your home that will work just fine. 

You can use red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or champagne vinegar as a substitute for apple cider vinegar in your cooking. Also, lemon juice is acidic enough that it will also make a good substitute. Be sure to use equal parts of what the recipe called for. 

These are great replacements for recipes using ACV. If you are making your own household cleaner or looking to take a shot of something for health, do not replace the ACV in your recipe. While some of the above vinegar might do well in a household cleaner, none of them will have the same health benefits linked to ACV. 

What Is Better: Apple Cider or Apple Cider Vinegar?

So, bottom line, what’s better? Hopefully, you have come to the following conclusion with all of the information above.

Neither Apple cider or apple cider vinegar is better because they are used for different purposes. Apple cider is sweet, and apple cider vinegar is bitter, similar to regular vinegar. ACV is used for cooking, cleaning, and small quantities of drinking, while the apple cider is solely for drinking. 

Though the names sound quite similar, they are actually two completely different substances and should never be interchanged in recipes.

Final Thoughts 

Apple cider vinegar is often considered a miracle substance by health advocates, natural gardeners, non-chemical cleaners, and foodies. Though apple cider doesn’t have the same accolades, we can’t forget that the two are competing in two different categories. 

During the fall, Apple cider gets our attention for being a sweet, delicious, and sometimes boozy drink. ACV works year-round to provide us a healthy alternative to other chemicals and possibly help us gain better health.

For more, don’t miss 9 Yummy Substitutes for Barbecue Sauce (And Easy DIY Recipe).

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