What is Acetic Acid?

what is acetic acid

Acetic acid is the acid that gives vinegar its sourness. It gets its name from the Latin word accept which means vinegar. It’s an organic acid, which means that it’s carbon based. Its chemical formula is CH3COOH.

Vinegar that’s made for home use has about 3 to 6 percent acetic acid, and pure acetic acid is called glacial acetic acid because it is a solid at room temperature.


Pure acetic acid is a colorless liquid that mixes easily with water. It has a familiar piercing, irritating odor. When it’s pure, it is caustic and can burn. It boils at 244 degrees Fahrenheit and has a specific gravity of 1.049.

Besides its many uses in food preparation, health, and cleaning, acetic acid is also used to make other types of chemicals. It can be converted into acetic anhydride and acetate esters. It’s used to make medicines, rubber, solvents and synthetic materials.

Apple Cider Vinegar & Acetic Acid

Apple cider vinegar is made from the fermented juice of apples. The fermentation changes the sugar in the apple juice to alcohol and carbonic gas. The carbonic gas eventually evaporates. When oxygen in the air comes into contact with the alcohol in the cider and a bacteria called Acetobacter aceti, it changes into apple cider vinegar.

apple vinegar

Apple cider vinegar can be made slowly or quickly. The slow process can take as long as two years and depends on the temperature and how much air the cider is exposed to.

The fermented liquid is kept in an oak barrel that has holes in it to allow air to circulate. The alcohol in the cider is lighter than the apple juice and rises to the top.

When it contacts the air, acetic acid is made. The acetic acid is heavy and eventually sinks to the bottom of the barrel. This continues until nearly all of the alcohol in the apple cider turns into vinegar.

The fastest way is for fermented cider to circulate continuously through generators. The generators contain porous materials through which warm cider vinegar is circulated from one to two days.

apple cider vinegar mother

After that, the cider is fed into the top of the generator through a revolving spray nozzle or sparger. The sparger splits the cider into droplets and each one makes contact with the air that enters through holes at the bottom of the generator.

This process is able to convert one to two thousand gallons of cider into vinegar in two to three days. During this process, a scum called the mother of vinegar forms. This is just a collection of Acetobacter aceti.

Though it is benign and even thought to be healthful, manufacturers need to constantly remove mother of vinegar because it clogs the generators.

Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Researchers have discovered that apple cider vinegar has a variety of health benefits. In studies, it controls the blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and people who are insulin resistant.

Scientists believe this is because the acetic acid keeps the body from using starch. Apple cider vinegar helps people with weight loss, whitens teeth when it’s used judiciously, eases the itching of insect bites and clears fungus that attacks the nail cuticles.


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