11 Unexpected (but Delicious) Uses for Cider Vinegar

Reading about cider vinegar’s many household uses makes the stuff seem like a miracle potion: it will whiten your teeth! Banish odors! Cure cases of the hiccups! Take the rust off of the bike that’s been sitting in your backyard since the first Bush administration!

With so many claims to its name, you’d think that cider vinegar would bestow superpowers upon ingestion (it won’t, although it does come with a long list of purported health benefits). Magical, life-giving elixir or not, it can be something of a wonder ingredient in recipes, producing more supple pie fillings, crunchier pickles, and sauces that sing with vibrant acidity. It’s a pantry staple worth having on hand for all sorts of recipes (and those non-food uses, too).

Even if some of its more esoteric abilities should be taken with a grain of salt, there is no denying that cider vinegar has a rightful place in these eleven recipes. They may not cure what ails you, but they do take advantage of its undeniable sour power.

1. Bring it to the barbecue

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Your typical barbecue sauce is built around two pillars: sweetness and acidity. Ingredients like brown sugar bring the sweet, while you can turn to cider vinegar to provide all the puckery-flavor that you need. Our oven-baked ribs recipe pares this formula down to its most basic elements, adding just a dash of lemon zest, garlic, and paprika to make things complete. Get our Vinegar and Spice Oven-Baked Ribs recipe.

2. Improve your pie game

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Fruity pie fillings benefit from a sprinkle of vinegar because it lowers their pH, which in turn strengthens the fruit’s network of pectin, the compound responsible for bringing about that coveted jammy texture. In apple pie, a dash of cider vinegar means slices of Granny Smith that get tender and gooey while still retaining their basic shape. Get our Dutch Apple Pie recipe.

3. Drink it up

Shrubs are fruit infused, vinegar-based drinking syrups that can easily be mixed with club soda or used as the base for a cocktail. Our cider vinegar-based version really plays around with the tartness, amping it up with cranberry and apple before reeling it in a bit with a scoop of brown sugar. Get our Cranberry-Apple Shrub recipe.

4. Dial up the heat

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It’s easy to forget that hot sauce depends on so much more than just chile peppers—vinegar is one of its primary ingredients, too. Because cider vinegar has a sweeter, fruitier, and less sharp profile when compared to many other vinegars, it’s perfect for recipes where you don’t want it to overwhelm the flavor of the peppers, like in this serrano-based sauce, Get our Lotsa Serranos Blazing Hot Sauce recipe.

5. You can pickle that!

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Cider vinegar can be used to make countless types of pickles. If you’ve already tried preserving your standard carrots and cukes, you can move on to more advanced items like these stunning, party-perfect beet-colored hard boiled pickled eggs. Get our Pickled Quail Eggs recipe.

6. Simmer it up, Southern style

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Southern-style collards contain several ingredients that are just as essential as the leafy greens: smoked ham or turkey (for that deeply savory perfume), brown sugar (for a hint of sweetness), and vinegar, to infuse each bite with an exhilarating astringency. Get our Slow Cooker Collard Greens recipe.

7. Make potato salad

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Real deal German-style potato salad is distinguished by its unabashed love of vinegar—those spuds really soak in the stuff. It’s just the sort of palate-cleansing thing you’ll want to eat between bites of fatty and rich sausage. Get our Warm German Potato-Cucumber Salad with Dill recipe.

8. Add an accent to sweets

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Buttermilk and cider vinegar help lift a simple icing beyond its basic sweetness in this recipe, adding an unexpected tang that balances out the sugar. Get our Buttermilk Icing recipe.

9. Toss it into a slaw

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Without vinegar, cole slaw would just be a heap of raw vegetables. In this recipe, cider vinegar turns red cabbage and other veggies into a pleasantly tart and tender side that nestles up against the big, smoky flavors of kielbasa. Get our Kielbasa with Warm Apple-Bacon Slaw recipe.

10. Whisk up some salad dressing

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Not to point out the obvious, but vinegar is an essential component of vinaigrette. Cider vinegar lends an especially fruity note to dressings, which can be played up by adding in a splash of apple juice, as it is in this simple butter lettuce salad. Get our Butter Lettuce and Pumpkin Seed Salad recipe.

11. Mayo’s secret helper

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Mayonnaise needs a dash of something acidic to perk up its flabby, rich flavor. Cider vinegar slips in quite nicely next to smoky bacon in this meat-infused mayo that begs to be slathered all over sandwiches. Get our Bacon Mayonnaise recipe.

Header image: Cranberry Apple Shrub from Chowhound

Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.

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