We preserve a lot of food on this homestead, but I think this may be one of the most rewarding things of them all. That is because we use apple cider vinegar, also known as ACV, pretty much every single day! It is our go-to salad dressing of choice, with a little drizzle of olive oil or lemon juice. It is also insanely good for you. So much so, that you can catch us in the kitchen taking straight shots of raw, uber-healthy apple cider vinegar (or fire cider) on a regular basis! Finally, we have an apple tree that provides us with more apples than we can consume fresh. So, in addition to making homemade apple chips, this is our zero-waste solution to preserving our apple harvests!
The best news of all is that apple cider vinegar is quite simple to make at home. We choose to use whole apples, just because we have such an abundance, but you can also make ACV using apple scraps. One very common method is to save up used apple skins and cores over time, storing them in the freezer, before starting a batch of ACV. Let’s go through the process of turning apples or scraps into fermented, probiotic-rich, delicious homemade apple cider vinegar, shall we? That’s the good stuff.
Why Make Apple Cider Vinegar?
It’s Cost Effective
When we buy apple cider vinegar, we choose the high quality stuff: raw, organic, unfiltered, “with the mother”… such as Braggs, our go-to brand. While I wouldn’t call ACV expensive, it isn’t necessarily as cheap as more basic vinegars, like white or red wine vinegar. Plus, if you use it as regularly as we do, it can add up! Making your own apple cider vinegar at home has huge cost-savings benefits, especially if you’re using scraps, homegrown, or otherwise low-cost apples. Even if you buy them just for this project, a few apples can create a lot of vinegar!
It Reduces Waste
We always suggest discarding excess produce in a compost system, as opposed to throwing them in the trash. On this little homestead, we have several types of compost bins that help take care of the majority of our kitchen and garden waste. Personally, our favorite composting method is vermicomposting, also known as worm composting. So, while you could compost your excess apple scraps, why not turn them into apple cider vinegar instead? Up-cycling for the win!
It is Healthy & Versatile
Apple cider vinegar has so many wonderful and surprising health benefits that I plan to write an entire article dedicated to that very topic in the near future! In a nutshell, here is the scoop: One of the key active components of apple cider vinegar is acetic acid. Acetic acid is excellent at slowing gastric emptying and reducing blood sugar spikes, thus stabilizing blood glucose levels. Being Type 1 Diabetic, I find that if I take a shot of ACV before a meal, I have improved blood sugar levels following that meal! Studies have shown to have similar effects for those with Type 2 Diabetes, when either taken with a meal or before bedtime.
Furthermore, apple cider vinegar is fermented! You all know how much we love fermented foods around here right? Not only are fermented foods quite tangy and tasty, but they’re also loaded with probiotics. This means they aid in digestion and balance your gut health. Did you know there is a direct correlation between a healthy gut, and an overall healthy mind and body? To read more about the health benefits of fermented foods, check out this article that I wrote on that subject!
Finally, apple cider vinegar can be used for more than just consumption! It can be diluted and used as a hair rinse, which removes built up minerals in your hair (such as from hard water) while also conditioning, balancing, pH, and healing hairs outer cuticle. Many herbalists and naturalists use ACV as a natural facial toner, or as an ingredient in other natural beauty and healing remedies!
- Organic apples, or apple scraps – For this recipe, you can use whole apples or apple scraps. A great time to make apple cider vinegar is after creating another apple dish, like baking apple pie, when you have a lot of cores and skins at once! If you cannot collect fresh scraps at one time, store them in the freezer as you continue to add to your supply. Organic produce is always the best choice, especially when it comes to fermenting!
The amount of apples needed is totally flexible. As you’ll see in the recipe section below, you can scale the portions up or down as needed.
The best apple cider vinegar will result from using a variety of apple types, if possible. Using a combination of sweet and tart apples creates a well-balanced finished flavor. A good goal is to use about two-thirds sweet apple varieties like Gala or Fuji (our Anna apple falls into that category) and one-third tart, such as Granny Smith. Pink Lady would fall somewhere in between. Truth be told, we don’t always mix in tart apples with our Anna’s since some are picked slightly underripe and tart. It still turns out pretty damn good, just not quite as tangy.
- Filtered Water or other un-chlorinated water is best for making living, fermented things like homemade apple cider vinegar. Do your best with what you have! We simply run ours through a basic carbon filter (in the fridge).
- Organic cane sugar
- A large glass vessel, your choice of size. We make large batches in this two-gallon glass crock, but many people use far smaller containers – like quart or half-gallon mason jars!
- Bottles to store your finished apple cider vinegar in. You won’t need these for a few months, so you have time to collect some. We simply repurpose old Braggs ACV bottles!
Wait… Did you just say you won’t need bottles for a few months? Yes. You read that right. I suppose I should give you this warning now: this process takes several months from start to finish. The minimum time from starting to using the finished product is about 2 months, though some people let their ACV ferment for 4 months or longer.
When you’re making apple cider vinegar, the goal is to fill your chosen container about halfway full of chopped apples or apple scraps. Then, the rest of the container is filled with a combination of water and dissolved sugar.
Sugar to water ratio: 1 tablespoon of sugar per one cup of water, or scaled up to 1 cup of sugar per one gallon of water.
Yes, the use of sugar is essential in this process. There are several types of beneficial bacteria naturally present on apples, including our friends lactobacillus and acetobacter. The addition of sugar provides food for those bacteria to rapidly grow and thrive. They will change the environment in the crock through a series of chemical reactions, first changing the sugar to alcohol, and then further transforming that alcohol into acetic acid over time. Therefore, the final apple cider vinegar is very, very low in sugar, and the alcohol content is virtually non-existent!
Step 1) Gather & Prepare Apples
If you are using collected apple scraps, this part is extra easy! There is no prep needed. If your apple scraps were frozen, let them thaw out before starting. A cold ferment is not a happy ferment! I do suggest adding at least some fresh scraps with your frozen ones, if possible. This will ensure your brew is inoculated with live bacteria. When making apple cider vinegar with whole apples, the prep is pretty dang easy too. Simply wash the apples well with water (no soap!) and chop them up into smallish chunks. You can leave the skins, cores, seeds, and even stems in there!
Add the apples to your glass container of choice, filling it about halfway full with apples. We use this 2-gallon container, but many people make much smaller batches! Ensure the container is nice and clean, but doesn’t have any soap residue present – which can cause off-flavors. We clean all of our fermentation supplies with plain white vinegar and hot water.
2) Add Water & Sugar
Next, it is time to get wet and feed the bacteria! Pour room-temperature to lukewarm filtered water over the apples until the container is completely full. Keep track of how much water you add as you go! To do this, I suggest adding water with a measuring cup, or a jar that you can note the volume of. We need to know the water volume to determine how much sugar to add.
Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as half of your container. For example, when we fill a 2-gallon crock “half full” of apples, that doesn’t mean it is taking up a true half of the volume – because of the air space between the apples. We can generally still fit 1.5 gallons of water inside.
Now, scaling up or down as needed, add 1 tablespoon of sugar per one cup of water used, or 1 cup of sugar per one gallon of water. Stir thoroughly until all of the sugar appears to have dissolved into the water. Here is where the “lukewarm” water helps out!
To inoculate and kick start our batch, we usually add a few glugs of finished apple cider vinegar. This step isn’t necessary, but may help prevent the formation of mold – especially if you are attempting to do this during a cold time of year.
3) Let Sit to Ferment, & Stir!
Once the apples, water, and sugar are all combined, cover your container with a breathable material, such as a lint-free tea towel, old pillow case, or coffee filter. I do not suggest using cheesecloth or any looser-knit material – it may allow fruit flies in!
Set this container in a location that is around 70 to 75°F, if possible. This is the ideal temperature range for fermentation. The container of fermenting apples should also be kept in a dark location. Because we need to see and access it daily for the first two weeks (described below), we keep ours out on the kitchen counter, but wrap the crock in a dark towel or pillowcase to block the light.
Now is the most difficult step of them all, and it really isn’t all that difficult at all! For the first two weeks, your fermenting apples should be stirred every day. The purpose is to ensure the sugar doesn’t settle on the bottom, and also rotate which apples are floating on top. If the same apples are left to float, exposed to the air, there is a chance of mold developing on them. Stirring prevents mold. If you miss a day here or there, it isn’t the end of the world! However, I suggest making a concerted effort stirring daily during the first week especially.
During this time, you’ll notice the apples will turn more brown, and the liquid becomes cloudy. Small bubbles should also appear, and it will start to smell a bit like hard apple cider. A layer of yellowish-white sediment may also collect on the bottom. This is all normal and good! Any obvious, fuzzy, green or white raised mold on the surface is not. In all the years making AVC, we have never had ours mold!
Step 4) Strain Apples
After two weeks of daily stirring, it is time to strain the apples to separate them from the liquid. To accomplish this, we set a fine-mesh strainer on top of a large bowl and slowly pour the contents of the crock through it. You can also use cheesecloth, or whatever else works! The collected apples can now be composted. Return the captured liquid to a clean glass container of the appropriate size, and cover in the same manner it was before.
Step 5) Continue to Ferment
This is where the waiting game begins… Store your covered crock in a temperate, dark location for at least one month, or longer! The bacteria will keep working to convert more and more of the sugar or alcohol to acetic acid, creating vinegar. The rate at which your partially fermented apple cider turns into full-blown vinegar will vary, depending on the storage conditions and apples used. Our apple cider vinegar usually sits for about 2 to 3 more months before we bottle it.
After a month has passed, you can give your vinegar a taste-test. If it tastes plenty vinegary for your liking, move on to the next step. If not, allow it to ferment longer. When it doubt, you can check the pH of your apple cider with these simple pH test strips! Finished apple cider vinegar should have a pH in the range of 2-3.
Note: During this time, sometimes the vinegar develops a layer of SCOBY on the top – sort of like kombucha does! It is a thin, smooth, off-white membrane made up of accumulated beneficial bacteria and yeast. It is normal and harmless. We discard it once we are ready to bottle the vinegar. Our chickens love to eat SCOBY, but make sure to chop it up well for them!
Step 6) Bottle & Enjoy
Once it reaches that perfect fermentation level, transfer the apple cider vinegar into bottles with tight-fitting lids for storage. We re-use old ACV bottles, or store it in our swing-top kombucha bottles. As an acidic concoction, homemade apple cider vinegar does not have to be refrigerated for safety-sake! It is best to store it in a relatively cool, dark place.
If we have the space, we typically refrigerate at least some of our bottles at this point. Why? Well, once they’re refrigerated, the bacteria activity will slow way down and prevent the vinegar from fermenting beyond the point we enjoy it. Plus, most people like to enjoy their AVC cold anyways! I know we do.
Even stored at room temperature, homemade apple cider vinegar will stay good for up to five years! However, the quality and flavor will likely be best within the first two years.
And with that, you just made your own apple cider vinegar!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful, and interesting! Next time we have an abundance of apples, I think we are going to take a stab at making our own hard cider. I will report back! Do you brew your own apple cider vinegar, or hard cider? What are your other favorite ways for preserving apples?
If you are interested in other healthy fermented goodies, you may enjoy these articles:
- How (& Why) to Make Fire Cider for Immune Health – We use our ACV as the base for this recipe!
- How to Make Kombucha 101: Brewing Basics for Best Booch Ever
- Fermented Dilly Radishes Recipe
- Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe – Not fermented… but oh so good for you!
Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar
- Diced apple chunks, or apple scraps (skins, cores). Enough to fill half of your chosen fermenting vessel (e.g. quart jar, half-gallon jar, 1 gallon crock)
- 1 tbsp sugar, per 1 cup filtered water OR
- 1 cup sugar, per 1 gallon of filtered water
- Wash and chop the apples into chunks, or gather collected apple scraps (which can be saved in the freezer over time) and add them to your jar or other large fermenting vessel until it filled about halfway full.
- Pour lukewarm filtered water over the apples into the container until it is almost full, but measure/note the total amount of water added.
- Stir in sugar in ratios of 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of water added, or for larger batches, 1 cup of sugar per gallon of water added.
- Optional: Add a splash of finished organic apple cider vinegar (e.g. store-bought) to inoculate the culture and encourage fermenting.
- Stir combined ingredients until thoroughly mixed, and cover with breathable material.
- Store in a dark location around 70 to 75 degrees F for two weeks to ferment, and stir everyday to prevent mold from forming on top. If needed, add another layer of material like a dark towel on top of the container to block light.
- After two weeks, strain and reserve the liquid into a similar sized container and cover again. Compost the apples.
- Move the covered container of liquid to a location that is out of the way to continue long term fermentation. Maintain dark. A cooler "room temperature" at this stage is okay, but do not refrigerate yet.
- After one month, sample the apple cider vinegar to see if it is finished fermenting and tart to your liking. If needed, allow it to continue to ferment for a total of two to three months.
- Once it is fermented to your desired flavor, transfer the apple cider vinegar into bottles with lids (or swing top bottles). Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator, and enjoy!
- Properly fermented apple cider vinegar should "stay good" for over a year – as long as it does not have visible mold, or a strong and unusual flavor or appearance.