Mother of vinegar is the slimy, gummy, jelly-like substance or layer of film that can form on the top of or in the liquid of apple cider vinegar. It can sometimes make the vinegar look cloudy. Sometimes, it's wispy and looks a lot like a little spider web.
The mother is actually a cellulose substance made up of various Acetobacter, a very acidic strain of bacteria. The Acetobacter combine with the oxygen in warm air to cause fermentation in apple cider, wine, or other alcoholic liquids to produce vinegar. It is the mother that gives the vinegar its characteristic sourness.
This substance can form naturally in store-bought vinegar if there is some non-fermented sugar or alcohol contained in the bottle. While not exactly appealing in appearance, it is completely harmless and the vinegar does not have to be thrown away because of it. Mother of vinegar can be easily filtered out using coffee filter, or, perhaps even better, the mother can simply be left in the vinegar and ignored.
People into home remedies and more holistic healthcare have long believed that mother of vinegar has many health benefits, especially antibacterial and antifungal properties. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, thought vinegar was a powerful elixir and used the mother to fight common germs. Today, popular uses of mother of vinegar include losing and controlling weight, improving digestion, and soothing dry, sore throats. Some people also use it externally to soothe the pain of sunburn, prevent dandruff or itchy scalp, and maintain healthy skin. The people of the Philippines even use sweetened mother of vinegar to make some of their traditional desserts.
It is increasingly rare these days to see natural vinegars containing mother on the grocery store shelf. Because of its unappetizing appearance, the large companies that produce vinegar use the pasteurization process to refine, distill, and clarify the vinegar to get rid of the mother. Many people believe, however, that the process that kills the mother also kills all of the special nutrients and health-promoting properties of the vinegar.
Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar containing mother can be found at most health food stores. It is an inexpensive addition to any kitchen pantry, and many people swear it is worth every penny. Just the mother of vinegar itself can be found at stores catering to home brewing enthusiasts or winemaking supply merchants.