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iLabs: Vinegar Experiment — One Year Later

May 31, 2013

Last year, shortly after our Investigate Lab opened to the public, many were fascinated by our cultures of microscopic protozoans and invertebrates. One in particular, vinegar eels (free-living nematodes known as Turbatrix aceti), caught everyone’s attention, probably because we had them living in a water/apple cider vinegar solution.

People started asking if their bottles of apple cider vinegar at home had these nematodes.  While we felt comfortable saying that the apple cider vinegar bottles that were filtered and pasteurized were most likely free of these worms, we couldn’t really comment on the unpasteurized brands that contained the “mother” – the mix of bacteria that turned the apple cider into vinegar.

We decided to go out and buy five very popular brands of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, all containing the “mother,” and proceeded to monitor them for almost a year. Periodically we would sample the bottles to check for the appearance of the worms. We even put some of the vinegar samples in the dark, and some in the light to see if that made a difference.

We did encounter one brand that ended up with vinegar eels after just one month. But the others stayed negative.  So we continued to sample/monitor the vinegars.

After all that time, the final results are in:

Only that one bottle ever went positive. I even purchased another bottle of that same brand and monitored that, but the second bottle never turned positive for vinegar eels. So I will consider that first positive bottle a fluke. All the other brands have remained negative.

Essentially then, to all who were concerned that they were raising vinegar eels in their pantries, we will simple say this: Most likely,  you are not. But if you are uncomfortable with that 3, 6, or 12 month old open bottle of apple cider vinegar, just replace it. Don’t give up on the apple cider vinegars that are unpasteurized and have sediment in them!  They have a great flavor and lots of nutrients. Just replace them every so often and you should be fine.

By the way, regarding whether vinegar eels are harmful to people, most sources I checked indicate they are not. One indicated they might cause some slight stomach discomfort but all the others stated they were not harmful to humans.  So, there you have it!!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. permalink
    May 31, 2013 9:36 pm

    Hi Deb, I just signed up for your new updates, I never knew that Vinegar could have eels, they must be very small thank God. Lots of Love Aunt Pat

    • June 1, 2013 6:34 am

      Hi there, Aunt Pat! Thanks for joining! I started posting to this blog last summer but the year has been crazy so I went silent. We have extra help this summer though, so I should be posting more often. Re the “eels” – they are small, you need a microscope with at least 20-30x magnification to see them. They are a type of worm living freely in the environment – water, soil, ….surface of apples ;)- hence they can get into apple cider vinegar. And since they can tolerate really acidic environments, they are pretty happy living in vinegar. I hope you are well. Love Deb

  2. james campanelli permalink
    September 20, 2013 7:12 pm

    the results point to the one bottle having been inoculated in some manner . Questions: Were the samples left open to the air ? Would organic apples from my yard be a source of inoculation if I wanted to grow VE? Do you have VE’s in the lab that may have escaped and found the vinegar? I am trying to start a culture without having to buy one to use as a starter, do you have any suggestions? just for interest sake what brand was it that came up positive?
    thanks for the science, so much fluff out there.

  3. flamingjune5dwj permalink
    March 21, 2015 1:56 pm

    We need to know the brand!! o.O

  4. June 11, 2015 6:32 am

    I wonder whether some of the health claims made about ACV could be due to these nematodes. “Parasitic” nematodes – helminths – can beused to dampen the immune system therapeutically and help all sorts of conditions from allergies to Crohn’s disease. Perhaps not a great idea to try to kill them!

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