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When I was trying to figure out how vinegar was making me react over two years ago, I did a lot of reading and research online about the gluten content of vinegar and whether or not it was gluten-free. All the information I turned up said that vinegar, even distilled vinegar from gluten grains, was gluten-free. Also, if “vinegar” appeared by itself on the food label, it was supposed to be apple cider vinegar. I saw this information provided in several places.

Last Word on Vinegar: It’s Safe
Vinegar! (Gluten Free Dietician)
Is Vinegar Gluten-Free?

All of this information left me feeling very confused and unsure of why I seemed to react to vinegar. One day when I’d had my worst symptoms, I had eaten a vinegar-containing salad dressing for lunch and a Mt. Olive dill pickle later in the day as a snack. A couple of days later, I had some Wholly Guacamole minis with a bagel and felt the symptoms I usually get when exposed to wheat/gluten a short time later. It wasn’t until later in the day before I began feeling better. Both the Wholly Guacamole minis and the pickles had “vinegar” listed on the label. Supposedly, these should contain apple cider vinegar. However, I found out that the Mt. Olive dill pickles used vinegar derived from corn. I never could discern the source of the vinegar in the Wholly Guacamole minis, but since I feel I reacted to the vinegar in that product and since I’ve recently discovered that apple cider vinegar is completely safe for me to consume, then the vinegar in that product must be another type of vinegar. To me, it seems strange that so many processed foods would be using apple cider vinegar when distilled vinegar seems to make the most sense to use. I tend to see “apple cider vinegar” appear on the labels of products containing it. I’ve also seen “cider vinegar” listed on a couple of products. The products containing apple cider vinegar seem to be, for the most part, specialty products, not mainstream ones. I even found a product that had both vinegar and apple cider vinegar listed. If “vinegar” is supposed to be apple cider vinegar, why would the ingredients label include it twice?

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This relish has both “vinegar” and “apple cider vinegar” listed. How then can the “vinegar” be apple cider vinegar?
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The vinegar in Mt. Olive pickles is distilled and is corn-based. I recently confirmed this by e-mailing someone at Mt. Olive.
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This product contains “apple cider vinegar”, but it’s explicitly listed as such in the ingredients.

From what I’ve been able to discern from my research and information gathered from food manufacturers, “vinegar” on the label can be any type of vinegar, including distilled vinegar.  I view it just like I do xanthan gum, an ingredient that can be safe but that may be unsafe if it’s derived from an allergenic source.  It looks like there’s a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation when it comes to what exactly the FDA requires when food labels contain the word “vinegar”.  All this misinformation and misunderstanding does is make it harder for people like me to make safe food choices.  In the end, it’s best just to avoid a questionable ingredient altogether, unless one wants to chase down manufacturers to find out how exactly the questionable ingredient is derived or made.

As always, this information is coming from a food-allergic consumer trying to understand how ingredients appear on food labels and making choices based on reading and research. Please use your own judgment concerning this information and do your own research to discover what’s your own best course of action to take concerning the foods that are (or not) safe for you to consume.

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