An Ayurvedic Perspective on Apple Cider Vinegar
What does Ayurveda have to say about apple cider vinegar, traditionally made from ripe apples slowly fermented over a one-month period? Nothing—it wasn't a common food of ancient India. So our journey today will be a bit of an adventure together to explore what's known and not known about this popular condiment from an Ayurvedic perspective.
According to classical Ayurvedic texts, “There is nothing in the world which does not have therapeutic utility in appropriate conditions and situations.” 1 Conversely, no food or herb is assumed to help everyone always. Apple cider vinegar is advocated to support healthy blood sugar, lighten weight, enhance stomach acid production (agni), and reduce cravings. How this translates to our doshas will be discussed.
Apple Cider Vinegar and the Doshas
Is it safe to use? Can it throw off the balance of your doshas? Is it good for you as an individual? Let’s start with the Ayurvedic touch point, “The effectiveness of your digestion depends on the strength of your digestive fire (agni).” 2
If your digestive fire is strong, then appetite is good, digestion and absorption are easy, and elimination is steady. If your digestive fire is low, food can sit in your stomach, and you may feel burpy, belchy, gassy, even queasy. The more you eat, the worse you might feel. On the other hand, if your digestive fire is too high, you may experience burning, pain or discomfort, with relief when you eat.
The prevailing view on the internet is that apple cider vinegar strengthens digestive fire and eases gastrointestinal discomfort. 3 Is this true in all cases?
In Ayurveda, different substances have different effects on an individual’s digestive fire, depending on one’s constitution. Warming substances like ginger, pepper, or cinnamon stimulate agni and are friendlier to the “cool” doshas vata and kapha. Cooling foods and herbs, like pomegranate, marshmallow root, or aloe vera juice, slow or ease agni, and often benefit warm pitta dosha.
Taste affects digestion. Sour, salty, and pungent tasting foods are warming and so tend to increase agni, while sweet and astringent flavors are cool and inhibit it. Bitter taste, being cool and light, supports pitta and kapha.
Looking at the energetic dynamics of a ripe apple, its taste (rasa) is astringent, sweet, and sour; its effect on the belly (virya) is cooling; and its after effect (vipaka) is sweet. In terms of the doshas, the cool lightness of a raw apple tends to aggravate vata, reduce pitta, and calm kapha. Apple juice is used in Ayurveda to relieve burning sensations. 4
Preparation and Its Effects
Yet preparation can considerably change the effect a food has. Fermentation shifts apple’s mild-mannered story. Apple cider vinegar’s taste is sour, its energy is hot, and its after effect is sour. This flips the picture in terms of its effect on the doshas. Being sour and warm, apple cider vinegar can calm vata—and will definitely aggravate pitta and mildly aggravate kapha.
In Tirtha’s The Ayurveda Encyclopedia, these energetics are affirmed: vinegar benefits vata and can imbalance pitta and kapha. It is a digestive and a circulatory stimulant. Vinegar is indicated for use in aiding the secretion of hydrochloric acid and to promote and ease menstruation. 5
Also, how a food is prepared can affect how it impacts the mind. Fresh foods (sattvic) are considered more calming to the mind than fermented or spicy ones (rajasic). Foods that have spent a long while in fridges, freezers, or microwave ovens (tamasic) can deaden our energy. 6
India has a long tradition of using fermented herbs medicinally in the form of arishtas and asavas (Ayurvedic fermented herbal tonics). 7 Yet most traditional Ayurvedic professionals living in India would not think to recommend rajasic apple cider vinegar as a digestive aid. It’s hot, it’s fermented, and it could instigate skin irritations.
Some Ayurvedic experts living in cold climates are more likely to stick up for fermented foods and their effective use. Dr. John Douillard (who lives in Colorado) affirms, “As long as a meal is primarily sattvic (energy boosting and enlivening), a touch of fermented food as a condiment will typically only be beneficial.” 8
How to Add Apple Cider Vinegar to Your Daily Routine
If you want to experiment with apple cider vinegar, here are some recommendations.
Start with as little as ¼ teaspoon of raw unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar in warm water before your first meal of the day. If this goes well, that is, you like how it feels (you don’t feel queasy or bloated), then you can increase it a bit, trying up to 1 teaspoon in 1 cup of warm water, 2–3 times per day.
In Ayurveda, a third of the stomach’s volume is reserved for food, a third for liquid, and a third remains empty for optimal digestive function. Keep this in mind as you drink diluted vinegar solutions—they do take up space in the belly. Minimize contact with your teeth; acids can eat away at enamel. Limit your maximum amount to 1 tablespoon per day. With these closing remarks I invite you to:
Trust your body’s wisdom and bring some relaxed awareness to this exploration with apple cider vinegar and whether or not it has “therapeutic utility” for you. You will know if it brings your body some benefit.