Acetic Acid: Food Sources and Benefits

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Acetic acid is a versatile and health-promoting organic acid. It's the main component of apple cider vinegar, frequently used as a natural preservative, and can even disinfect bathrooms and kitchens. 

Acetic acid has been used as a natural remedy for various ailments, including cough, digestive issues, and infections, for more than 5000 years.   

Let's look at the health benefits of acetic acid and find out why you should consume apple cider vinegar regularly.

Apple cider vinegar drink

What is acetic acid?

Acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, is an organic acid found naturally in apples, grapes, and blackberries. It can also be produced by bacterial fermentation of sugars and starches. 

Undiluted acetic acid, called glacial acetic acid, is highly corrosive and isn't usually found in food or household products. This form of acetic acid is used to produce cellulose acetate, polyvinyl acetate, and vinyl acetate monomer, chemical compounds needed to manufacture plastic, paint, and solvent.  

Diluting acetic acid with water creates vinegar, and most vinegar contains around four to eight percent of acetic acid.

Acetic acid vinegar is considered a weak acid that inhibits bacterial growth, making it an ideal pickling agent and preservative. It’s often used in combination with other food additives—including citric acid and acetate salts—to prolong the shelf life of food products.  

Vegetable pickles

Sources of acetic acid

Acetic acid is the main organic acid in vinegar and is responsible for vinegar's pungent smell and tart taste. 

Acetic acid is found in all types of vinegar, including:

  • Apple cider vinegar

  • Balsamic vinegar

  • Rice vinegar

  • Wine vinegar 

  • Malt vinegar 

  • Distilled, white vinegar 


Because of its potent antibacterial properties, the food industry commonly uses acetic acid as a natural preservative to extend product shelf life. 

Here are popular food products containing acetic acid:

  • Pickled products including pickled vegetables, pickled eggs, and pork pickles  

  • Salad dressings

  • Mustard

  • Ketchup

  • Mayonnaise 

  • Sauces and condiments 

  • Kombucha

Vinegar is also a common ingredient used for making bread. The acetic acid, in combination with baking soda, causes a chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide gas, making vinegar an excellent leavening agent that helps bread dough to rise. 

Natural apple cider vinegar

Five health benefits of acetic acid

Research suggests that acetic acid has potent antimicrobial, antiobesity, and antioxidative properties and may support healthy blood pressure. 

While all vinegar contains acetic acid, most people use apple cider vinegar to support health. Raw apple cider vinegar is unpasteurized and unfiltered and a rich source of potassium, enzymes, and small amounts of beneficial bacteria. In contrast, white distilled vinegar is often made from GMO crops and contains no nutrients. 

Here are five reasons why you should consume apple cider vinegar regularly!

1. Supports healthy digestion 

Frequent consumption of foods with acetic acid can support digestion and reduces the risk of bacterial infection.  

Many people have insufficient stomach acid levels, resulting in sluggish digestion and gastrointestinal issues, including bloating, acid reflux, and malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Acetic acid balances stomach acid concentrations, which promotes the breakdown and digestion of proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

In addition, acetic acid's acidity appears to inhibit the growth and proliferation of H. pylori, a gastric bacteria linked to the development of stomach ulcers and colon cancer.

2. Lowers risk of bacterial and infection  

Vinegar has traditionally been used as a natural remedy for infections and as an antiseptic and disinfectant tonic. Acetic acid disrupts the pH balance of microbes and breaks down bacterial cell walls, effectively killing them. 

Acetic acid appears to lower the risk of viral respiratory and gastrointestinal bacterial infections. It also promotes a healthy intestinal microflora that inhibits the proliferation of harmful bacteria and yeasts linked to inflammation, digestive issues, and weight gain. 

vinaigrette dressing

3. Promotes blood sugar balance 

Consuming apple cider vinegar appears to support healthy blood sugar regulation and lowers the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

This study suggests that acetic acid slows gastric emptying, which buffers the rise of blood sugar levels after a meal. 

In addition, acetic acid increases the sensitivity of your cells to insulin and appears to directly inhibit the release of excessive insulin, which supports an effective metabolism and healthy weight. 

4. Supports heart health 

Acetic acid has been found to support healthy blood pressure levels, which promotes cardiovascular health and lowers the risk of stroke and heart attacks. 

Although research is limited, acetic acid is believed to stimulate the release of renin, an enzyme that regulates electrolytes and fluid balance, directly impacting blood volume and, consequently, blood pressure. 

5. Promotes healthy weight 

Acetic acid slows down digestion, especially gastric emptying. This supports satiety, making you feel fuller for longer, and curbs cravings linked to excessive intake of calories and weight gain. 

Research suggests that consuming apple cider vinegar before a meal results in a significantly lower intake of calories, which promotes the loss of body fat and long-term weight maintenance.  

Vinegar cleaning supplies

Other uses of acetic acid 

Acetic acid has potent antimicrobial properties and isn't very corrosive compared to other acids. This makes acetic acid an ideal natural disinfectant for various purposes. 

Here are some common household uses of acetic acid: 

Cleaning and laundry 

Vinegar has been used as an all-purpose household cleaner for centuries. Diluted acetic acid is an excellent natural disinfectant and a common ingredient in cleaning products, including household cleaners, window cleaners, bathroom cleaners, and dish soaps. 

Adding some vinegar to your laundry can help to resolve tough stains and keeps your clothes bright in color.  

Medicine and personal care products 

Acetic acid can be found in medicines, including ear drops and ointments for fungal infections, and is added to cosmetics to control the pH value and extend the shelf life of skincare products.  


Acetic acid in the form of an aqueous solution can be used as a natural, nontoxic weed killer, and adding a splash of vinegar to cut flowers appears to keep them fresh for longer.

Who shouldn’t use acetic acid

Acetic acid is generally considered safe. However, acetic acid can slow gastric emptying, which can be problematic for people that administer insulin. It's best to avoid high concentrations of acetic acid if you are taking insulin to avoid potentially dangerous low blood sugar levels. 

Discuss using apple cider vinegar with your doctor if you are taking medications to control blood pressure or potassium levels. Consuming too much apple cider vinegar can cause potassium levels to fall, resulting in electrolyte imbalances.


Due to its acidity, people with open wounds or cuts should avoid using acetic acid-containing products.

Different types of vinegar

Key takeaways

Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar and an organic acid that benefits your health, preserves foods, and can even help you keep your house spotless. 

Acetic acid can help you lose weight, promotes healthy digestion, supports blood sugar balance, and may lower your risk of bacterial infection. 

Regularly taking apple cider vinegar is generally considered safe. However, don't consume more than one to two tablespoons daily to avoid digestive issues and tooth enamel erosion.


1. What is acetic acid?

Acetic acid is an organic compound in some fruits and can be manufactured by fermenting starches and carbohydrates. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar and responsible for its pungent smell and taste.

2. Does apple cider vinegar contain acetic acid?

Yes, acetic acid is a main component of apple cider vinegar. Most apple cider vinegar contains between four to eight percent of acetic acid.  

3. What are the health benefits of acetic acid?

Acetic acid is linked to various health benefits, including lowering the risk of microbial infection, promoting digestion and healthy blood sugar levels, and supporting weight loss.


4. What food has the most acetic acid?

Because vinegar can contain as much as eight percent of acetic acid, salad dressings, condiments, and pickles are generally rich sources of acetic acid. 


5. Which fruit has the most acetic acid?

Apples contain the most acetic acid, explaining why apple cider vinegar is a rich source of acetic acid. 

6. Does acetic acid reduce inflammation?

Some evidence suggests that acetic acid may have anti-inflammatory effects. Acetic acid appears to inhibit the activity of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that regulates the inflammatory response and production of pro-inflammatory compounds. 

7. Who should not take acetic acid?

If you are taking blood pressure medications or are administering insulin to regulate blood sugar, it's best to discuss acetic acid intake with your doctor to avoid electrolyte imbalance and potential hypoglycemia.  

8. How much acetic acid can I have each day?

It's generally considered safe to consume between one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in water daily. Intake above two tablespoons per day can increase the risk of tooth enamel erosion and digestive issues. 

9. Does vinegar help with acid reflux?

Yes, acetic acid can relieve acid reflux symptoms by balancing the acid concentration in the stomach. In addition, acetic acid promotes healthy digestion, which may also reduce acid reflux. 

10. Is acetic acid good for weight loss?

Yes, acetic acid appears to aid weight loss. Acetic acid slows gastric emptying and supports healthy blood sugar levels, which curbs hunger and can avoid cravings.  

11. Is acetic acid harmful? 

Compared to other acidic compounds like sulfuric acid, acetic acid isn't very corrosive and doesn't pose a significant health risk. However, it's a weak acid that can irritate eyes, skin, and airways, and it's best to use protective safety gear when using acetic acid vinegar solution in the household.  

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