First, we are going to establish how vinegar was made in the mid-1800s. Notice the following recipes for homemade vinegar taken from Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery, published in 1851:
Take six quarts of rye meal; stir and mix it well into a barrel of strong hard cider of the best kind; and then add a gallon of whiskey. Cover the cask, (leaving the bung loosely in it,) set it in the part of your yard that is most exposed to the air; and in the course of four weeks (if the weather is warm and dry) you will have good vinegar fit for use.
Put into a cask a mixture composed of five gallons of water, two gallons of whiskey, and a quart of strong yeast, stirring in two pounds of powdered charcoal. Place it where it will ferment properly, leaving the bung loose till the fermentation is over...
As you can see from these recipes, vinegar in the mid-1800s was made with ingredients such as "hard cider" and "whiskey." The process of making vinegar changes the alcohol to acetic acid. However, not all of the alcohol is converted into acetic acid. A certain amount remains, and that amount varies according to various factors, including how long the mixture was allowed to ferment. Vinegar purchased off the shelf of a supermarket today contains approximately .5% alcohol, which is quite small. It is impossible to determine exactly how much alcohol was present in the vinegar used by Mrs. White because she was likely using homemade vinegar. Since we do not know all of the conditions that went into the making of the vinegar, it is difficult to precisely say how much alcohol was in it. We must look for other clues as to its alcohol content.
Mrs. White, following the lead of Dr. Kellogg who denounced vinegar as a poison, condemned its use. Here is what she wrote in 1887:
"The salads are prepared with oil and vinegar, fermentation takes place in the stomach, and the food does not digest, but decays or putrefies. As a consequence the blood is not nourished, but becomes filled with impurities, and liver and kidney difficulty appear. Heart disturbances, inflammation, and many evils are the result of such kind of treatment, and not only are the bodies affected, but the morals, the religious life, are affected."1It is true that a significant amount of vinegar can slow the digestion somewhat. However, this statement sounds a little odd to us today, because people today do not seem to suffer the problems mentioned in the quote above. We do not usually think of vinegar affecting the liver or "the morals, the religious life." Perhaps the reason we do not find these problems today is that the vinegar we purchase at the store today has a lower alcohol content today than the homemade vinegars of the mid-1800s.
It is evident that Mrs. White was talking about a vinegar much stronger and more potent than the vinegar sold in grocery stores today. For example, there is no evidence that the vinegar used today has any impact on the liver or that it affects "the morals, the religious life." However, we know for a fact that alcohol can affect both the liver and "the morals, the religious life." Therefore, the only possible conclusion is that Mrs. White was warning against vinegars with a higher alcohol content than we typically find on the market today.
In the Desire of Ages she depicts Jesus as refusing vinegar because of the effect it might have upon his mind:
"In another prophecy the Saviour declared, "Reproach hath broken My heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink." Ps. 69:20, 21. To those who suffered death by the cross, it was permitted to give a stupefying potion, to deaden the sense of pain. This was offered to Jesus; but when He had tasted it, He refused it. He would receive nothing that could becloud His mind. His faith must keep fast hold upon God. This was His only strength. To becloud His senses would give Satan an advantage."2If vinegar would "becloud" the senses and "give Satan an advantage" over the Son of God, what effect would it have upon God's prophetess?
In 1911, Mrs. White wrote a letter in which she made a startling admission about her addiction to vinegar:
"I had indulged the desire for vinegar. But I resolved with the help of God to overcome this appetite. I fought the temptation, determined not to be mastered by this habit. For weeks I was very sick; but I kept saying over and over, The Lord knows all about it. If I die, I die; but I will not yield to this desire. The struggle continued, and I was sorely afflicted for many weeks. All thought that it was impossible for me to live. You may be sure we sought the Lord very earnestly. The most fervent prayers were offered for my recovery. I continued to resist the desire for vinegar, and at last I conquered. Now I have no inclination to taste anything of the kind. This experience has been of great value to me in many ways. I obtained a complete victory."3This statement appears unbelievable today. Who could possibly become sick and nearly die, just from stopping the use of vinegar? Let me stop here and give you a personal testimony. When I was a rigid SDA, I reached the point in my life where I decided to give up the use of vinegar, which was according to my understanding of Ellen White's counsel. So I got rid of the pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, and started using lemon juice instead of vinegar in my salad dressings. So what happened to me? Nothing. No life-or-death struggle. No weeks of sickness. Nothing! My body didn't even notice! And being a big salad and sandwich eater, I used these products virtually every day! (Oh by the way, my health did not improve when I stopped using vinegar!)
So what caused this life-or-death "struggle" that resulted in Mrs. White being sick for weeks? Vinegar itself (acetic acid) is not addictive. So what could it be? This type of a struggle happens every day with people addicted to alcohol. Alcohol is strongly addictive. She apparently had an addiction to the alcohol in the vinegar, and the life-threatening struggle she endured in breaking the habit seems to indicate an addiction that may have lasted for many years. The symptoms she described, the sickness, the struggle, the withdrawal symptoms, are strikingly similar to those symptoms chronic alcoholics suffer when they stop drinking!
In 1887, Mrs. White condemned vinegar as affecting "the morals, the religious life." However, in 1911, the prophet of the Seventh-day Adventist church admitted having an addiction to vinegar, which she herself proclaimed affected "the morals, the religious life."
Based on this revelation, SDA's should ask themselves two questions:
There is one other possibility for explaining this vinegar addiction. It is possible that Mrs. White was wildly exaggerating her sickness and struggles. If this is true, then perhaps she was not addicted to the alcohol content of the vinegar. If this is true, perhaps her vinegar had only a tiny bit of alcohol in it. The only problem with this explanation is that it admits that Mrs. White was prone to wild and gross exaggerations. The question is immediately raised, What else did she exaggerate? The idea of a prophet who distorts reality in order to gain sympathy from others is quite unsavory.
Vinegar is mentioned in the Bible--in the Book of Ruth and in Proverbs. It is also specifically called for in the making of haroseth in Pesachim, a section of the Talmud. Hippocrates prescribed the drinking of vinegar for his patients in ancient Greece. Columbus had barrels of vinegar on his ships for the prevention of scurvy. Indeed, Apple Cider Vinegar has been used for thousands of years, as both a health and cleansing agent. It is antibacterial and anti-fungal and gives the immune system a good boost. As a high potassium electrolyte balancer, it remineralizes the body and helps normalize the blood’s alkaline acid balance. Apple Cider Vinegar is proving most beneficial to people or animals with arthritis because it breaks down calcium deposits in the joints while remineralizing the bones. Here are just a few of its other benefits:4
Like so many of her other health counsels, it appears Mrs. White may not have had all the facts about the health benefits of vinegar.
1. Ellen White, Letter 9, 1887, Manuscript Releases vol. 2, pp. 143-144.
2. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 746.
3. Ellen White, Letter 70, 1911, reproduced in Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 485.
4. Information provided by © 1999 & 2000 Sallamander Concepts, Zest for Life & www.anyvitamins.com.