Balsamic Vinegar: A Comprehensive Guide

Balsamic vinegar is a type of vinegar that is made from grape must. It is a dark, thick vinegar that has a sweet and sour taste.

It is often used in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. Balsamic vinegar is a popular ingredient in many recipes, but it can be tricky to use.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about balsamic vinegar, including how to select the best quality vinegar, how to store it, and how to use it in your cooking.

Why is it called “balsamic vinegar”? 

Balsamic refers to a product that contains “ balsam ”. It is a physiological exudation of certain plants (release of a liquid) which corresponds here to that of the barrels towards the must of cooked grapes during conservation.

What does balsamic vinegar taste like?

Balsamic vinegar has a sweet and sour flavor and a thicker consistency. As it ages, it becomes thicker, less acidic, thicker, sweeter, and more aromatic, eventually becoming a balm. Hence its name, balsamic.

Balsamic vinegar drops

How is balsamic vinegar made? 

Real balsamic vinegar is a very complex, separate product. Much more complex than other kinds of vinegar. And that’s quite logical because it’s not… vinegar! 

Spoon with balsamic vinegar of Modena inside and behind the bottle and barrel

It is recognized by its color, the darkest of all bottled vinegars: dark brown. Its texture is just as different from the others: syrupy instead of liquid. And its taste has nothing to do with the others either: slightly sweet. 

No alcoholic fermentation

All vinegars are obtained by fermentation of alcohol in wine, but also cider or beer, into acetic acid. Red wine, white wine, and cider vinegar are obtained in this way. This is not at all the case with (real) balsamic vinegar! 

A traditional manufacturing process 

The real traditional balsamic vinegar ( Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) is made exclusively in northern Italy, in the region of Modena and the provinces of Emilia-Romagna which have been making it since the 11th always century, according to very strict traditional processes and in force today. It benefits from an IPG (Indication of Geographical Origin). 

balsamic vinegar barrels

This traditional balsamic vinegar is not obtained by alcoholic fermentation, but by cooking, the grape must just after harvest. This cooking makes it possible to concentrate the sugars and thus avoid the transformation into… wine. The very dark syrup is then obtained. 

It is only at this stage that this syrup is put into fermentation, according to very strict procedures concerning time and containers: 

The wooden barrels must be of different species (cherry to give fruitiness, oak for the vanilla notes, chestnut for the tannins) and different capacities (from 60 L to 15 L). 

 Their hardness also counts: the mulberry allows faster evaporation at the beginning, and the ash allows the vinegar to be concentrated at the end of conservation. 

The fermentation time lasts at least… 12 years, but can go up to more than 25 years, even 100-150 years! 

As the vinegar concentrates under the effect of the heat (the barrels being stored under the roofs in the middle of summer), it thickens and is decanted into smaller and smaller barrels: indeed, as it matures, it also loses volume. 

At the end of aging, it has obtained its characteristic dark brown color and syrupy consistency. The subtle aromas it gives off on the nose and the palate are reminiscent of port and dried fruit. Its acidity is obtained by the subtle interplay of the different essences of the barrels and the different maturing times. 

Very specific grape varieties 

balsamic vinegar with grapes

The real original balsamic vinegar is exclusively made in Modena, northern Italy, with 2 main grape varieties: Trebbiano white L Lambrusco. But you can also use Ancellotta and Sauvignon. 

In the end, real balsamic vinegar is a very precious liquid that can be compared to some great wines. Its price is in its image: expensive! Some bottles can display $300.

Choosing the right balsamic vinegar 

Bottles of balsamic vinegar

It is a vinegar to be used with white meats, fish and salads, and even desserts such as strawberries, melon, or even vanilla ice cream! 

Make sure to choose bottles indicating the mention Aceto balsamico di Modena in Italian, with the IGP mentioned. It has been aged in general, between 3 to 5 years. It’s already a premium product that varies in price depending on age and the ingredients used. 

Check the list of ingredients to see if it says “ grape must ”. There may be a little vinegar added to give the final brew some acidity. The ideal is that the mention of the grape must come first, and that of the vinegar second. Not the opposite! 

Why is balsamic vinegar priced differently? 

The explanation comes from the lack of legislation: the name “balsamic vinegar” is not regulated! Everyone can therefore use it, without making the vinegar according to the tradition of Modena.

Not all balsamic vinegars are created equal, far from it. We can say that the name “balsamic vinegar” is misleading for many products. 

As a result, the price differences are impressive. From a vinegar found in the supermarket to a top-of-the-range brand, they can range from $3 for 16fl.oz. to $200. These impressive price variations also reflect the qualities of these vinegars.

The cheapest is simply wine vinegars colored and caramel Everything is indicated on the ingredient label! We are far from real balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar health benefits 

Balsamic vinegar has been used for centuries in Italian cuisine. You can eat it alone, on a piece of cheese, in a salad, on a pasta dish or rice, or on anything else you want.

The regular consumption of balsamic vinegar helps to regulate blood sugar levels and insulin and glucose response after meals. Additionally, it can help increase the solubility of calcium, and consequently the resistance and formation of bone tissue.

This vinegar can help also reduce joint pain and bone weakening caused by menopause. Lastly, it assists in fighting high blood pressure, similar to apple cider vinegar.

Cooking with balsamic vinegar

Balsamic Vinegar is a sweet wine vinegar produced from grapes grown in Modena, Italy. It is used in cooking, baking, salad dressings, marinades, sauces, dips, and desserts. It adds a rich flavor to dishes and is often used as a condiment.
It is best to use balsamic vinegar in small quantities since too much can overpower the taste of the dish. Use balsamic vinegar sparingly and add it at the end of cooking time.

How to store vinegar at home

modena balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar from modena

Regardless of what kind of vinegar you have, pay attention to the container in which the product is stored. It is not recommended to store vinegar in plastic or metal containers. Plastic eventually reacts with acetic acid and begins to release toxic products, and the metal oxidizes.

Below are some tips for storing vinegar at home:

  • Containers for storing vinegar should be glass – jars, bottles, etc. At the same time, it is important that the vinegar storage container is tightly closed, otherwise it will lose its beneficial properties, as it will evaporate.
  • The vinegar bottle should be stored in a cool, dark place. Although manufacturers write that the storage temperature of vinegar is from -3 to 35 degrees, it is still not recommended to store it in the refrigerator, since some types of vinegar, in particular, apple and balsamic vinegar, do not fully open when chilled.
  • It is okay to store table vinegar in the refrigerator, as it does not have a special bouquet. But some herbal types of vinegars even need to be stored in the refrigerator, since only there they retain all their properties.
  • Store vinegar at home in the closet, away from various heat sources: radiator, gas stove, etc.
  • Vinegar should not be on the windowsill or stand on the table near the window. In this case, he can just wander. If sediment forms at the bottom of the vinegar bottle, then throw this product away – it is hopelessly spoiled.
  • And, of course, it is important to keep the vinegar out of the reach of children. The consequences of drinking vinegar in large quantities are not pleasant.

How long should you store balsamic vinegar?

When buying balsamic vinegar, pay attention to the production date. The “older” the vinegar, the better it tastes.

You can buy young vinegar, but then keep the bottle closed at home for another 1-2 years. However, a sealed container is needed for aging.

If you bought and immediately opened the vinegar, it can then stand for a very long time, but it will not get any better. The richest taste has balsamic vinegar with an exposure of 12 years.

If we are talking about ordinary store-bought vinegar, but after opening the bottle, its properties are quickly lost. Such vinegar should be stored at home for no more than a year in a dark and cool place at a temperature of 6 to 20 degrees

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This concludes our comprehensive guide to balsamic vinegar. We hope you have found this information useful and that it has inspired you to experiment with this delicious ingredient. Be sure to check out our other posts for more cooking tips and recipes.

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