Ellen White's Secret Swill

By Elaine Bowerman and Dirk Anderson

Many Adventists are shocked to discover Ellen White suffered from an addiction to alcohol. In the 1800s, homemade vinegar often contained small but potentially addictive amounts of alcohol. In 1911, Mrs. White writes about an intense struggle that she went through to kick the alcohol habit:

"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."1

This statement appears unbelievable today. Who could possibly become sick and nearly die, just from stopping the use of vinegar? 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. Mrs. White apparently had an addiction to the alcohol in 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 the very symptoms chronic alcoholics suffer when they stop drinking!

Let us compare the symptoms that Mrs. White described with the symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

First, Mrs. White said she was in a life-or-death struggle. Vinegar itself is non-addictive and stopping its use has no adverse impact on the body. Therefore, stopping the use of vinegar could not account for Mrs. White's symptoms. However, quitting an addiction to alcohol can truly be a life-or-death struggle:

"A person who is dependent on alcohol and who then suddenly stops drinking goes through a painful and potentially life-threatening withdrawal syndrome as the body adjusts to the absence of alcohol."2

Second, Mrs. White said she was "very sick".

"The following are some of the more common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal: anxiety, agitation, restlessness, insomnia, feeling shaky inside, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in sensory perception, headache, and heart palpitations."3

Third, Mrs. White said that she struggled with a "desire" to drink and that she finally conquered this "desire". One of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is a strong craving to drink:

"The urge to drink again during withdrawal can be very strong."4

Fourth, Mrs. White's life-or-death struggle lasted for "weeks". The severity of her symptoms is not indicative of a mild addiction, but of a heavy addiction that may have lasted for years or decades.

"Generally, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal relate proportionately to the amount of alcoholic intake and the duration of a patient’s recent drinking habit."5

"Withdrawal symptoms rarely occur in people who only drink once in a while. Symptoms usually occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks or months and then suddenly stop drinking."6

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal from a heavy addiction include "alcohol withdrawal delirium" which can manifest "up to 2 weeks after cessation of alcohol intake."7

While it is unheard of for anyone to suffer withdrawal from vinegar itself, the symptoms described by Mrs. White can only be explained as a severe addiction to alcohol. Where was this alcohol found? In her homemade vinegar which she admitted drinking while telling others to avoid it.

Alcohol Content of Vinegar in the 1800s

First, it must be established 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 can be seen 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 into 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 is tightly controlled to only contain 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 likely used homemade vinegar. The alcohol content of homemade vinegar varies widely depending upon the conditions that went into making it. A chemical analysis of carefully controlled vinegar production in 1905 showed a residual 3.3% alcohol present after the second pressing.8

Forbids Others to use Alcohol-laden Vinegar

In condemning vinegar, Mrs. White followed in the footsteps of Adventist physician J.H. Kellogg who called it "unfavorable to health" in 1875, and later denounced vinegar as "a poison".9 Here is what Mrs. White 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."10

It is true that a significant amount of vinegar can slow the digestion somewhat. However, this statement sounds a little odd to the modern reader, because people today do not seem to suffer the problems mentioned in the quote above. The next time you are getting ready to pour salad dressing on your salad at an SDA church fellowship meal, you may want to stop and consider what you are doing to your liver and how you are endangering your "morals, the religious life"!

In the Desire of Ages Mrs. White 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."11

If 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 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:

  1. How many letters and testimonies were written while Mrs. White was "under the influence" of vinegar?

  2. Could the alcohol content of her vinegar have effected her judgment and discernment?

Ellen White Drinks Wine, and other Swill

Besides vinegar, it appears Mrs. White indulged in a little wine and perhaps other alcoholic beverages on occasion. On March 3, 1859, Mrs. White wrote in her diary that she gained "some strength by taking a little tomato wine."12 In their publication of this letter, the editors at the White Estate inserted the word "juice" after "wine" to confuse the minds of the readers into thinking this was merely juice and not actually alcohol-laden wine. Although somewhat obscure today, tomato wine was a part of American history and most certainly contained alcohol. The Milwaukee Sentinal of June, 1840 wrote: "...it may be anticipated that this wine will find favor with the public." One researcher wrote that "Tomato wine experienced a surge in popularity" in the mid 1800s, and the "recipe was popularized in the widely circulated “Dr. Chase’s Recipes”... Tomato wine appeared in regional newspapers as well - the Baltimore Sun in 1856."13 Despite the Estate's attempt to hide the facts, the reality is that Mrs. White drank tomato wine which was an intoxicating drink.

Not only did Mrs. White drink wine when she felt ill (which was most of the time), but the Whites also gave wine to others to treat their "illnesses." Apparently the Whites kept a supply of it on hand. In the same diary, on March 19, Ellen writes, "We put up one pint of rich grape wine and another pint of currant for the sick one..."14 Both of these alcohol-laden wines were familiar to Americans of the mid 1800s and were written about in literature of the day.15 On April 15, Ellen's diary reports the Whites were once again distributing wine: "Put up Brother Benedict one pint of currant wine and one pint of grape."16 On May 7, Ellen again reports drinking wine for medicinal purposes: "They got me wine and raw egg, which revived my strength some."17

In 1868, James White wrote that at those times when she felt ill, Ellen would use "domestic wine":

"During the past year, Mrs. W. has, at three or four times, had feelings of great debility and faintness in the morning. ... To prevent distressing fainting at these times, she, [Ellen White] immediately after rising, has taken an egg in a little pure domestic grape wine, perhaps a spoonful at a time, and never thought that this had to do with drugs, as she uses the term in her writings, more than the man in the moon. During this past year, she may have used one pint of wine. ..."18

Domestic wine was locally-produced fermented wine, which is why James goes through pains to share how little of it Ellen White used--only 1 pint in a year. The alcoholic content of wines during the 1800s generally ranged from 5% to 20%, although the White Estate assures us it was "grape juice as free from fermentation as possible."19

Twenty years after James' article, Sister White wrote a letter to Elder E.P. Daniels, whose family apparently drank wine. As justification for their driking wine, Brother Daniels reportedly said, "Brother and Sister White kept wine in their house, and to your certain knowledge used it."20 This demonstrates other Adventists were aware of Mrs. White's habit of using alcoholic beverages, and they used that knowledge to justify their own indulgences. In her letter to Daniels, Mrs. White admits to using a small amount of alcoholic wine:

"I have not tested the wine that you claim is not intoxicating. I have perhaps used half a pint in all, taking a spoonful with a raw egg, much as I hate the taste of wine..."21

In addition to drinking vinegar and wine, in 1892, Ellen White writes of having a sleepless night, and laments of not being able to find a strong alcoholic drink in the home: "I felt the need of a strong cordial, but there was nothing in the house but grape juice."22

According to the Dictionary, a "cordial" is a "strong, sweetened, aromatic alcoholic liquor; liqueur" or a "strong highly flavored sweet liquor usually drunk after a meal."23 It is uncertain how frequently Mrs. White indulged in cordials. Interestingly enough, she warned physicians that "wine, beer, and other stimulants" were not to be used "in the treatment of the sick."24


Seventh-day Adventists should be concerned that Ellen White was apparently addicted to alcohol during a time when she was writing books, articles, and sending out testimonies in the name of the Lord. She admits having an addiction to home-made vinegar, admits using alcoholic wine, and spoke of looking for a "cordial" as if it were a customary event for her. Other Adventists observed the alcohol in her home and used it to justify their own drinking. We may never know exactly how much alcohol Sister White downed, how long her addiction lasted, or how much she penned while inebriated. Perhaps the the most serious concern is that she required her followers to abstain from all alcohol while she was secretly inbibing.

Your questions answered: Is Vinegar really so harmful?

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:25

  • Reduces cholesterol (the dangerous LDL cholesterol type)
  • Regulates the water content in the cells and body
  • Reduces water retention in the body
  • Removes excess sodium from the body
  • Helps regulate blood pressure
  • Assists in preventing circulatory problems
  • Helps with diminishing premature calcification of the arteries
  • Helps increase concentration and memory
  • Assists in blood circulation

Eating vinegar may be particularly beneficial for diabetics. Studies have found that the acidity in vinegar "slows the digestive process...curtailing rapid rises in blood sugar."26

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 70, 1911, reproduced in Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 485.

2. "Alcohol Withdrawal", http://www.bookrags.com/research/alcohol-withdrawal-dat-01/, extracted Jan. 25, 2008.

3. Ibid.

4. "Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome", http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/addictions/alcohol/007.html, extracted Jan. 25, 2008.

5. MAX BAYARD, M.D., JONAH MCINTYRE, M.D., KEITH R. HILL, M.D., and JACK WOODSIDE, JR., M.D., "Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome", http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040315/1443.pdf, extracted Jan. 25, 2008.

6. "Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome", http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/addictions/alcohol/007.html, extracted Jan. 25, 2008.

7. Karen M. Stanley, M.S., A.P.R.N., Celene M. Amabile, Pharm.D., Kit N. Simpson, Dr.PH, Deborah Couillard, B.S.N., E. Douglas Norcross, M.D., Cathy L. Worrall, B.S.N., Pharm.D., "Impact of an Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Practice Guideline on Surgical Patient Outcomes", http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/458862, extracted Jan. 25, 2008.

8. L.M. Tolman and J.A. le Clerc, U.S. Department of Agrigulture, Bureau of Chemistry, Bulletin No. 99, "Second Pressing Cider", (Washington, D.C., 1905).

9. John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., The Household Manual of Domestic Hygiene, Foods and Drinks, Common Diseases, Accidents and Emergencies, and Useful Hints and Recipes, (Battle Creek, Mich., 1875), p. 32. Kellogg, The New Dietetics: A Guide to Scientific Feeding in Health and Disease, (Battle Creek, Michigan, 1921), p. 211.

10. Ellen White, Letter 9, 1887, Manuscript Releases vol. 2, pp. 143-144.

11. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 746.

12. Ellen White, Manuscript 5, 1859.

13. "Tomato Wine," Old Line Plate July 19, 2017, http://oldlineplate.com/post/163181605451/tomato-wine.

14. Ellen White, Manuscript 5, 1859.

15. "Rich grape wine" is mentioned by Thomas Webster in An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1855) p. 515. The same book refers to "Currant Wine" on page 644. See also The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia of Useful Information by E.F. Haskell, (NY: 1861), p. 273.

16. Ellen White, Manuscript 6, 1859.

17. Ibid.

18. James White, "Advent Review and Sabbath Herald", Battle Creek, Michigan, March 17, 1868.

19. "Ellen G. White Estate-Question and Answer File" Number 34-B-I-a "Domestic Wine"; May 1, 1963.

20. Ellen White, Testimonies in the Case of Elder E. P. Daniels, pp. 53-57; Letter dated August 1, 1888.

21. Ibid., p. 55.

22. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases Volume Twenty-one, p. 114, paragraph 1.

23. www.Dictionary.com, v1.1, unabridged. Wordnet 3.0, Princeton University, 2006.

24. Ellen White, Healthful Living, p. 237, Unpublished Testimony, 1892.

25. Information provided by © 1999 & 2000 Sallamander Concepts, Zest for Life & www.anyvitamins.com.

26. Jean Carper, Your Miracle Brain, p. 131. "One Italian study showed that ading only four teaspoons of vinegar to an average meal depressed blood sugar by as much as 30 percent! ... Combining vinegar with high GI white potatoes, as in making potato salad reduced the glycemic index 25%, accoring to tests by Jennie Brand-Miller."

Category: Contradictions
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