This week, Dr Mathew looks into the popularity of apple cider vinegar and its health benefits from an Ayurvedic perspective.
Let’s start with a little history. The word ‘vinegar’ comes from the French vin aigre – meaning ‘sour wine’. It’s produced by fermenting grains or fruits (or any source of natural sugar) with yeast to form alcohol. Further exposure of this alcoholic liquid to Acetobacter aceti bacteria forms acetic acid. This gives vinegar its strong, sour taste.
Historically, vinegar was used as a beverage and preservative, or as a condiment. Fermented apples were one of the most common sources of alcohol, in the form of cider, which is mentioned throughout historical literature, starting from the time of Romans in the British Isles.
Apple cider remains one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the UK, but it’s rare for cider to be made the traditional way these days. It often has extra added sugar, chemical flavourings and preservatives.
The USDA food composition database reports that unfiltered apple cider vinegar does not have any special nutritional value. Even with its sour taste, there are zero vitamins and only trace amounts of minerals .
The Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
There are several benefits attributed to ACV and its use has increased greatly over the past decade. Apple cider vinegar is sometimes even classed as a superfood! The most common area where the benefits are seen is indigestion. Applied externally, ACV is also used to treat acne, condition hair, soothe insect bites and heal minor burns.
Since neither apple nor its fermented form were traditionally used in India, they are not mentioned in any of the classical texts. So I’m going to attempt to analyse ACV based on its various attributes and observed benefits using the Ayurvedic parameters:
Vipaka (effect on digestion)
Prabhava (other unexplainable impacts)
The Ayurvedic view on apple & apple cider
Apple in the Sanskrit language is Swaduphala.
Its Rasa, or taste, is Sweet and Astringent
Its Guna, or predominant quality, is Laghu, or Light, and Ruksha, or Dry
Its Virya, or energy, is more Cooling
Its metabolic effect, Vipaka, is Sweet.
Based on these qualities, apples in their raw form have a Vata-increasing effect, being Cold, Dry and Light. There is also a Pitta-balancing effect due to to their Cooling nature.
What changes with fermentation?
The fermentation process usually reduces the sweet taste of food, changing the Rasa to Sour and increasing the Warming quality of that food’s Virya.
Most wines, even if consumed chilled, increase circulation to the periphery, leaving the drinker feeling warm and red. This is one of the reasons why alcoholic fermentation became popular in the cuisines of many cooler, temperate countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
Effect on Vata, Kapha & Pitta
Fermentation changes apple juice so that is becomes Warming and Light, an acidic or Sour drink with an effect of reducing both Vata and Kapha. The weight-reducing effect is due to its balancing effect on Kapha and its accelerating effect on the metabolism.
But this change also has an aggravating effect on Pitta.
Apple cider vinegar increases the production of digestive juices and can help reduce indigestion. The combination of alcohol and acetic acid is anti-microbial and anti-fungal when applied externally.
However, due to its acidity, it’s not recommended in Pitta imbalance. Too high a concentration can cause skin burns and ulcers in the stomach.
A word of caution
When in doubt, please stay away from apple cider vinegar.
There are other digestive and naturally anti-microbial spices and herbs, like ginger or fennel, which are far less dangerous. If you’re already a fan of ACV, do not take it too regularly or over an extended period. Instead, take it for a short time and take it well diluted.
If you feel any signs of a burning sensation, internally or externally, please stop immediately.
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