Vinegar is a ubiquitous food that consists of acetic acid, water, and other constituent sub-ingredients (depending on the source material). The forms are numerous: white, balsamic, malt, and apple cider. This common, and relatively inexpensive product, was a common source of food fraud and help lead to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and the primacy of the Heinz brand (will discuss in a separate post)).
In 1854, Scientific American complained that they could not trust the apple cider vinegar that could be purchased in New York City. Based on color and sour taste, the consumer believed they were buying vinegar when it fact they bought “vitriol” (sulfuric acid), water, and coloring. The article calls for the city to investigate this matter.
The states stepped in and passed vinegar purity laws, such as Pennsylvania and New York (which remains in effect). Both laws specifically called out apple cider vinegar, specifying that it must be made fresh apples. This interest in apple cider vinegar then carried over to the federal law under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
In a landmark case, the Supreme Court examined a product called “apple cider vinegar made from selected apples.” This vinegar was made from dried or evaporated apples with water added to it to make it identical to vinegar made from fresh apples. The court ruled that the name was misleading because the name “cider” “is the expressed juice of apples and is so popularly and generally known” and cider was not used to make the product. Thus making the product misbranded because its labeling is false or misleading in any particular (now Section 403(a)(1)).
Nearly 90 years later, FDA continues to take the position that this product must be called vinegar made from dried apples – not apple cider vinegar. Otherwise, its misbranded based on the labeling is false or misleading. However, vinegar is no longer considered a major concern for food fraud.