Ah, balsamic vinegar. This delicious by-product of grapes is a staple in kitchens around the world. Once called “black gold,” professional chefs and home cooks alike love balsamic vinegar for its rich flavor and versatility. Being one of the must-have vinegar in your kitchen, you can use it in salad dressing and marinades, or dip a slice of crusty bread into a saucer of it. As balsamic vinegar is one of the key components of the Mediterranean diet, it has received even more praise in recent years as this way of eating grows in popularity.
What exactly is balsamic vinegar? How does it differ from other vinegar, and is it tastier and more nutritious? In this article, we answer those questions and explain the health benefits of using balsamic vinegar instead of another type when you next whip up some homemade salad dressing.
What exactly is balsamic vinegar?
As we noted, balsamic vinegar is made from grapes. It is fermented for long stretches of time, which kills any bacteria that may linger in it. Originally, balsamic vinegar was made in two northern Italian cities, Reggio Emilia and Modena. Like many foodstuffs, balsamic vinegar was the outcome of a lucky accident – a red winemaker forgot about the grape juice he was brewing up in a barrel. Legend has it that when he finally realized he’d forgotten his juice, it had already transformed into balsamic vinegar. That’s how this delicious liquid was born.
Real balsamic vinegar is still made in only one area of Italy from one particular grape. However, the balsamic vinegar you see lining grocery store shelves is not made solely from grapes, though it is still made only in Italy. Sometimes, the producers mix in a little wine, which helps reduce the price of the final product. This helps make balsamic vinegar taste sweeter than, for example, plain white vinegar. And producers occasionally add a little fruit, usually berries of some kind, which heightens the sweetness too.
What are the different types?
Balsamic vinegar is, strictly speaking, vinegar made from grapes. Today, there are six types of balsamic vinegar, and a greater number of regions produce it. The six types are Modena PGI; Balsamic Vinegar; White Balsamic; Balsamic Glaze; Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, and Condimento Balsamico.
Here’s a more in-depth look at each type:
- Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI: This type is imported directly from Modena, Italy. If the bottle or jar has PGI or IGP on the label that means it has met all European Union protection regulations.
- Balsamic Vinegar: If the balsamic vinegar you buy doesn’t have PGI or IGP on the label, it means that the product might not come from Italy.
- White Balsamic: Although this is made from grapes, it has white wine added to it, which weakens the flavor so it doesn’t taste as bold as real balsamic vinegar.
- Balsamic glaze: This product is sometimes called “balsamic reduction.” It looks a lot like syrup, as it’s thicker than true balsamic vinegar. The producer may add honey or another sweetener in order to boost the sweetness component.
- Traditional Balsamic Vinegar: This type is the priciest of all balsamic vinegar available on the market today. It’s produced in small batches, so there is a very limited supply to meet a large and growing market. Consequently, a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar can be as much as $200 (USD) or even more.
- Condimento Balsamico: This version doesn’t meet the strict inspection standards set down for making true balsamic vinegar. It won’t have DOP stamped on the label, which stands for Protected Designation of Origin. Curiously, however, some folks prefer this product to other types that are certified – it’s all about preference.
What does DOP mean?
As we noted, this stands for Protected Designation of Origin. Any balsamic vinegar with this on the label was made in Reggio Emilia or Modena and was made following very strict production protocols. The vinegar must be aged for a minimum of 12 years and kept in a 100-millimeter bottle. Some of the finest balsamic vinegar is aged 25 years. These standards were set in order to protect the purity quality of balsamic vinegar. And just like some wines are better with age, so is balsamic vinegar!
How can you tell which balsamic vinegar is best?
Certain factors reveal whether you’re buying a good bottle of balsamic vinegar: the age, the ingredients, and the size of the bottle. Let’s start there, with the age.
- The age: Just like wine, balsamic vinegar needs time in the barrel to develop a rich, deep flavor. Therefore, the older it is, the better. Balsamic vinegar needs a minimum of 60 days to age, and preferably as long as three years so it fully attains its best taste.
- The ingredients: Most balsamic vinegar in shops today isn’t pure, because it would be priced out of most consumers’ range if it was. The balsamic vinegar you find on grocery store shelves is usually mixed with another ingredient, such as wine. In order to purchase the most flavourful balsamic vinegar you can pay close attention to the grape content. The higher that figure, the better the vinegar! Authentic balsamic vinegar contains more grapes than wine vinegar. Apart from the certification labels we mentioned earlier, there are only a few ways to tell if it’s really good.
- The capacity of the bottle: Unlike other vinegar, the size of the bottle you purchase matters. It might be fine to buy a big, plastic jug of white vinegar because you use lots of it doing eco-friendly household chores, but plastic jugs are a no-no when it comes to this vinegar! Because pure balsamic vinegar is made in small batches, look for a small bottle when buying it. Here’s a tip to remember when shopping: the bigger the bottle of balsamic vinegar, the less pure it’s likely to be. In this case, size definitely matters, and the smaller the bottle size, the better!
What recipes are best with balsamic vinegar?
There are many, of course, but here’s just one example: the popular appetizer in Italy called the Caprese Salad, which is a simple blend of fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese. Most folks blend olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress this classic dish, and the result is absolutely fabulous!
You can also make a delicious marinade with balsamic vinegar to roast lamb or chicken. Or mix it with a spoonful of olive oil, slice a baguette or ciabatta loaf, and let everyone dip their bread into the sauce. A culinary delight, indeed!
How should you not use balsamic vinegar?
Plain white vinegar is eco-friendly for cleaning. When it’s mixed with baking soda, it’s perfect for scrubbing the bathtub, sink, or toilet. It’s also great for cleaning the kitchen floor and wiping down counters and cupboards.
So, can you use balsamic vinegar in its place? No! Never. Balsamic vinegar is completely natural, of course, and won’t harm countertops if you spill it. However, it can’t take the place of plain, white vinegar when you’re making a mixture for cleaning purposes. There are several reasons for this: it’s too expensive to use as a cleaner; it’s the wrong color, and it just doesn’t work! Never use balsamic vinegar in place of white vinegar when you’re whipping up an environmentally friendly cleaning mixture. It won’t work, and it’s too expensive to waste.
How to make balsamic vinegar last in the pantry?
Since this wonderful liquid is expensive, you want it to last as long as possible. That means you’ve got to store it properly. One of the most important things not to do is expose balsamic vinegar to sunlight. Don’t leave it on the counter during the day. Don’t even leave it in the pantry with the light on for long stretches. So, where should you keep your bottle? Lots of folks store it in the fridge because a cool, dark place is ideal. While this won’t extend its life, it is a good place to store it. However, you can also leave it on a pantry shelf, as long as it’s stored at room temperature and isn’t exposed to light.
Unlike other foods, balsamic vinegar actually improves with age. Remember what we said about wine and aging? The same is true for this! As time passes, the flavor improves. It doesn’t last forever, of course – nothing does! – But balsamic vinegar does indeed last a very long time, particularly if you store it correctly. The acidity in it acts as a self-preserver, which is why it only gets better with time. If you purchase a bottle and store it in a cool, dark environment, it will last as long as five years.
What are the health benefits of balsamic vinegar?
As people know, vinegar has many benefits for our body, such as aiding digestion, controlling blood sugar levels, and lowering blood pressure. Balsamic vinegar contains extra nutrients from grapes in particular such as antioxidants that destroy free radicals and slow down the speed of the aging process. In addition, Balsamic vinegar can be used as natural sweet vinegar, because it contains sugar from grapes.
There are plenty of reasons to consume balsamic vinegar!
- Here are some of the most notable ways balsamic vinegar boosts your health:
It boosts immunity;
- It acts as an anti-bacterial agent, and anti-viral agent too;
- It reduces the chance of you having a heart attack;
- It helps prevent anemia;
- Balsamic vinegar has lots of antioxidants, which reduce your risk of cancer;
- It reduces your risk of Diabetes.
Does balsamic vinegar aid in weight reduction?
Like other types of vinegar, balsamic vinegar is low in calories. It has fewer than 90 calories in 100 g. particularly when compared to other dressings, balsamic vinegar is a dieter’s friend. Consider how fattening Caesar salad dressing is, or ranch or buttermilk dressing. Salad dressing made with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a few spices is a much more nutritious option and much lower in calories. Balsamic vinegar is a win/win for you if you’re trying to lose weight – it tastes great and it’s not high in calories.
You can also mix it with a little water and drink it, as this solution eases stomach and digestion discomfort.
Can you make balsamic vinegar at home?
Yes, you can, however it takes a long time to do so, and there are so many wonderful choices at the grocery store, it seems a bit impractical. Nonetheless, the Internet has many recipes available if you want to give them a try. One of the most popular is a combination of red wine vinegar and honey or maple syrup.
It is recommended to mix 1 (red wine vinegar): 4 (honey or syrup), but if you would like to taste a thicker flavor, you could try 1 (red wine vinegar): 2 (honey or syrup), it will be more like Balsamic glaze, but of course, the substitute Balsamic vinegar may be sweeter than the regular one. The sweetness in regular Balsamic vinegar is from the grapes, which are lighter and not as sweet as syrup or maple.
Balsamic vinegar is one of those foods that has everything going for it – versatility, inexpensive options, and a superb taste in every recipe you use it in. It has plenty of health benefits, like lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to recent studies. Mixed with a little warm water, it may help suppress your appetite – a bonus for you if weight loss is your goal.
And best of all, balsamic vinegar is delicious!
Although there is still a lot to learn about the benefits of regularly consuming balsamic vinegar, enough is known already that we can confidently say: if you don’t consume it yet, you should start! One bottle of balsamic vinegar goes a long way, so invest in a good product with a perfect storage container, and begin making dressings and marinades as soon as you possibly can. We guarantee you’re going to love it!
We enjoy getting feedback from our readers about the products we recommend. Please send us your thoughts about balsamic vinegar in the comments section, along with your ideas for future blogs. We love receiving your feedback!