Trying to ward off a cold? TikTok’s wellness gurus swear by fire cider (also known as fire tonic or Master Tonic), a spicy concoction made of veggies, herbs and other spices. They say it has preventive properties, with the ability to keep illness at bay.
But does it actually work? Registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD, says not to expect much from fire cider — aside from an upset stomach.
She explains what fire cider is and whether it’s worth trying.
What is fire cider?
Fire cider is a spicy, usually homemade drink that brings together a variety of all-natural ingredients said to have immune-boosting properties. Proponents of fire cider claim that when all these healthy ingredients band together, they create a super-beverage of sorts — a mega-healthy drink that can prevent you from getting sick.
In the 1970s, an American herbalist named Rosemary Gladstar coined the term “fire cider” and published a recipe that called for:
- Raw apple cider vinegar.
- Horseradish root.
- Cayenne pepper.
Since then, the internet has seen dozens of DIY spinoff recipes of the drink, sometimes adding ingredients like:
- Lemon or orange zest.
- Jalapeño or habanero peppers.
To make fire cider, you combine all the ingredients except honey in a glass jar and let it sit in a cool, dark place. After it’s steeped for a month, you use a cheesecloth to strain the liquid, aka the fire cider itself, then add honey to sweeten it to your liking.
Sounds interesting, right? But not so fast…
Are there benefits of fire cider?
People who sing the praises of fire cider say it can build a healthy immune system and help fend off sickness. Here’s the catch: There’s no evidence that fire cider actually works — or that it does much of anything at all really.
“There’s nothing to show that fire cider is beneficial,” Czerwony says. “There’s just no real rationale behind taking it.”
Importantly, while all the ingredients in fire cider are healthy ones, none of them has the proven power to cure or prevent illness. In other words, this is one of those home “remedies” that is truly nothing more than a myth.
May briefly clear out your sinuses
Spicy foods can make your nose run, which can help clear up any lingering congestion when you’re recovering from a cold. But doctors don’t recommend consuming spicy foods until you’ve reached the final leg of an illness. When you’re already fighting cold- and flu-like symptoms, the last thing you need is an even runnier nose.
“Fire cider has a lot of very spicy, pungent flavors, like garlic, ginger, horseradish and cayenne pepper,” Czerwony notes. “But the effect on your sinuses is still just going to be momentary. You’re not going to see any longer-term effects.”
The ingredients are healthy, but…
All of the individual ingredients in fire cider are generally considered healthy, and each has health benefits of its own. But that doesn’t mean they’re somehow extra healthy when you put them all together.
“Though many of the ingredients have been shown to have health benefits independently, there’s no greater health benefit when we add these products together,” Czerwony clarifies.
Another major strike against fire cider? Because of the way it’s made, you don’t actually reap all the benefits of most of its healthy ingredients. It’s sort of like juicing: When you strain out the solids, you also lose many of the nutrients in them, like the polyphenols and antioxidants that make them so good for you.
“Because all of these ingredients are strained out, fire cider really has no antioxidants and no extra B vitamins or vitamin C or any of the things you’d need to pack a powerful punch of immune boosting,” Czerwony says.
You’ll get more benefits of these ingredients if you consume them on their own, rather than in daily shots of fire cider.
- Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is essentially twice-fermented apple juice. Though many people swear by it to aid digestion, calm acid reflux and boost weight loss, there’s not enough data to confirm those benefits. “This trend has been going around for a long time,” Czerwony notes.
- Garlic is a delicious, albeit smelly to some, superfood that has anti-inflammatory properties and can help improve cardiovascular health.
- Ginger is loaded with vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. This aromatic root is associated with pain relief, nausea reduction and blood sugar regulation.
- Honey has been shown to soothe sore throats, minimize coughing and sweeten up warm herbal teas that taste so good when you’re sick.
- Horseradish is a cruciferous vegetable that’s high in vitamin C, a known immune booster.
- Onions are high in vitamin C and flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that supports immune health. They may also have antibacterial properties.
- Jalapeno peppers get their heat from an extract called capsaicin, which is associated with reduced inflammation and improved heart health.
- Turmeric is a bright-yellow pantry staple that may help decrease inflammation, relieve pain and fight unstable molecules in your body called free radicals.
- Elderberries may help relieve symptoms of upper respiratory infections, according to preliminary data. But more research is needed, and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says, “There’s not enough information to show whether elderberry is helpful for any other health purposes.”
Uses for fire cider
Variations of fire cider were used for hundreds of years before Rosemary Gladstone coined the term and published her recipe. Throughout history, various cultures have turned to herbal tonics to promote general well-being.
But these days, many people turn to fire cider because they believe it will help them lose weight — mostly because of the belief that apple cider vinegar can curb your appetite and help your body burn fat. But there’s just not enough evidence to show that it can do that.
Some small studies show that apple cider vinegar can help you stay full for longer, which can keep you from snacking for up to two hours. But that hardly makes it a magic pill (err, beverage) for helping you shed pounds. For that, you’ll need to turn to the tried-and-true science of weight loss.
“Food fads like this always come back revamped and tweaked a little to make them look more sensational,” Czerwony says, “but the bottom line is that fire cider just doesn’t really do anything for you.”
Risks of drinking fire cider
In addition to not doing much good, fire cider might even do some temporary and unpleasant harm, thanks to the combo of all those spicy, acidic ingredients.
“Honestly, fire cider is probably going to cause more harm than good,” Czerwony warns. “If you have health issues like acid reflux or indigestion, this combination of ingredients is likely going to make it worse.”
The possible side effects of drinking fire cider include:
- Indigestion: Spicy foods can wreak havoc on your stomach, particularly if you’ve got a sensitive digestive system.
- Diarrhea: Spicy foods can also lead to not-so-pleasant poops. Think about it: Anything that burns on the way in has the potential to burn on the way out, too.
- Acid reflux: Some people swear that apple cider vinegar helps calm their acid reflux. But ACV itself is highly acidic, which can actually cause reflux (or make existing reflux worse).
- Tooth erosion: Consuming highly acidic food and beverages on a regular basis can cause the protective outer layer of your teeth (enamel) to wear away. And once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced.
So, is it OK to drink fire cider? All in all, this is one of those internet “wellness” trends that’s worth skipping. But if you’re dead set on drinking fire cider, Czerwony recommends tamping down the spice level by diluting it with water or following it up with a bit of milk. This can relieve the burning-mouth feeling that spicy foods can cause.
Still, Czerwony says that you’re better off just passing on this fiery concoction: “Honestly, it just isn’t a very good idea.”
Will fide cider stop you from getting sick?
None of the ingredients in fire cider have been proven to prevent or cure illness, so don’t count on it to give your body any kind of true immunity boost. For that, you’ll need to take a more holistic approach to your wellness.
But the good news is that there’s still plenty you can do to boost your immune system and stay well.
- Get vaccinated: Vaccines are the single best way to boost your immunity against illnesses like COVID-19 and the flu.
- Stay hydrated: Getting enough water is vital to a healthy lymphatic system, which plays a major role in your immune system.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep allows your immune system to recharge, giving your body the strength it needs to fight off illness.
- Follow a healthy diet: Eat immunity-boosting foods and avoid ones that negatively impact your health. “This will allow you to get all the nutrients that actually help with immunity,” Czerwony says.
- Quit smoking: Smoking exposes your immune system to toxins, which can increase your likelihood of getting sick.
What if you’re already in the throes of sickness? Skip sketchy so-called remedies and instead turn to trusted cold- and flu-fighting tips like rest, hydration and over-the-counter meds. If you’re very unwell or can’t seem to shake the bug, make an appointment with a healthcare provider instead of swilling homemade fire cider.