There are some food staples you will find in every kitchen: sugar, baking soda, and assorted dried herbs and spices definitely top the list of essentials you’ll find tucked away in most pantries.

Sometimes, it’s not a question of these foods being there, but how long they’ve been sitting on the shelf. Think about it: can you honestly remember the last time you replaced that container of curry powder?

Reddit user Hassassin30 was recently going through his kitchen when he found an old bottle of vinegar. He started to pour out the contents when he noticed a strange mass in its center. Unsure of what it could be, he held it up to the light… and saw something that he simply couldn’t explain.

While pouring out a bottle of old vinegar, a Redditor named Hassassin30 found this strange mass growing inside. At first, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but then he looked a little bit closer. There was definitely something living inside his vinegar. The question remained: what was it?

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At first, it looked like some kind of bizarre alien organism. Was it moving? Did it have a mouth? Did it have eyes? For a few seconds, the man was sure that just by emptying out his old vinegar he had made a major discovery that would leave others breathless.

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But the truth, as he found out, was even cooler in its own way. Granted, the real explanation wasn’t something as earth-shattering as proof of alien life, but if you are a fan of science—and you enjoy learning the different ways in which things work—it’s a pretty great find.

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It turns out the explanation behind this “alien” was actually a simple matter of kitchen chemistry at work. He had been storing the vinegar in a dark, warm place for quite a prolonged amount of time, which had allowed the vinegar to “mother.”

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Mother of vinegar is what results when vinegar ferments and forms a mass of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria. Mothers are also found in other foods. The popular drink kombucha is made at home with a mother. The same goes for sourdough bread!

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The mother is most often found in store-bought pasteurized vinegar, which may contain some non-fermented sugar and alcohol. You can also encounter it if you are brewing your own vinegar at home, though the results likely won’t be as dramatic.

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Even if it’s not homemade, the mass isn’t usually quite as well-formed as this. Normally, it’s much more wispy in appearance. The mother at the bottom of this container of vinegar looks downright ethereal in nature! No matter how it might appear, it’s still made up of the same stuff.

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This thing must have been sitting for quite some time to develop such a dark, rich color and to be in such a meaty shape! Imagine not knowing about vinegar mothers and discovering it in one of your own containers at home? Talk about a major shock!

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Think you’d like to experiment with making your own vinegar at home? Simply sift out the mother the next time you notice one hanging out inside of your old bottle of vinegar. You can use it as the base to start your own brew by “feeding” it wine or cider and storing it in a warm, dark place.

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Although this might look like a photo of some sort of strange “meat pancake,” it is, in fact, another example of a vinegar mother. Vinegar mothers may be slimy to the touch, but they won’t make you sick—and they aren’t dangerous to consume.

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In fact, consuming the mother is thought to be good for you! For hundreds of years, apple cider vinegar—which is filled with the stuff—has been a popular home remedy that is thought to cure many different illnesses. Some people believe that taking daily doses of mother-rich apple cider vinegar can lower your blood sugar, help you lose weight, and improve symptoms of diabetes.

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Though there’s still very little research to confirm it, the mother is thought to be the primary reason behind all of the positive health benefits provided by ingesting apple cider vinegar daily. One thing is certain, however: vinegar is proven to be loaded with amino acids and antioxidants.

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It is crazy to think that something that looks so strange could actually contain a wide array of vitamins! Keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re cleaning out your pantry—who knows what you’ll find.

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