Balsamic Vinegar: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Explore the health benefits, history, and types of balsamic vinegar, a dark, concentrated Italian vinegar made from grape must, and learn how to store and use it in various recipes.

What Is Balsamic Vinegar?

  • Balsamic vinegar is a dark, concentrated vinegar that originated in Italy . It is made completely or partially from grape must , which is freshly crushed grape juice with all the skins, seeds, and stems.
  • Making must is the first step in winemaking. Must is also used as a sweetener in some recipes because of its high glucose content, typically between 10 and 15%.

Is Balsamic Vinegar Good For You?

Yes! It is low calorie and has some terrific health benefits.

5 Health Benefits Of Balsamic Vinegar

  1. Balsamic vinegar contains six percent acetic acid, which is slightly higher than the acetic acid rate in distilled and apple cider vinegar.
    • Used medicinally through the ages, acetic acid is now recognized as a powerful antimicrobial.
  2. A study found that balsamic vinegar has an antiglycemic impact when consumed, meaning a person’s blood sugar will spike less drastically after a meal.
  3. The probiotics found in acetic acid can help promote good gut health and digestion while supporting overall immune function.
  4. Balsamic Vinegar may help lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL.
    1. A study on rabbits was done with 4 different diets: normal, high cholesterol, high cholesterol and low dose vinegar, and high cholesterol and high dose cholesterol. Result: high dose diet rabbits had lower LDL
  5. Balsamic vinegar helps with blood circulation
    1. A study found grape juice (which balsamic is made from) versus orange and grapefruit juice helped circulation by making blood not clot, which is good for heart health

History, Background About General Facts of Balsamic Vinegar

  • The term aceto balsamico is unregulated (anyone can call a vinegar balsamic), except for three protected balsamic vinegars: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena , Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia , Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • The two traditional balsamic vinegars are made the same way, by reducing grape must aged for several years in a series of wooden barrels , and they are produced exclusively in either the province of Modena or Reggio Emilia .
  • The names of these two vinegars are protected by the European Union 's Protected Designation of Origin , while the usually less expensive Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is made from grape must blended with wine vinegar , and produced exclusively in either Modena or Reggio Emilia, with a Protected Geographical Indication status
  • The Italian word balsamico (from Latin balsamum ) means " balsam -like" which means "restorative" or "curative"
  • Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced from the juice of just-harvested white grapes (typically, Trebbiano grapes) boiled down to reach a minimum sugar concentration of 30% (brix) or more in the must , which is then fermented with a slow aging process which further concentrates the flavors.
  • The flavor intensifies over the years, and the vinegar is stored in wooden casks, becoming sweet, viscous, and very concentrated.
  • During this period, a portion evaporates: it is said that this is the " angels' share ", a term also used in the production of bourbon whiskey , scotch whisky , wine , and other alcoholic beverages.
  • None of the product may be withdrawn until the end of the minimum aging period of 12 years. At the end of the aging period (12, 18, or 25 years) a small portion is drawn from the smallest cask.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Balsamic Vinegar?

Balsamic vinegar is a versatile condiment that is widely used in various cuisines. Here are some cuisines that regularly incorporate balsamic vinegar:

  1. Italian cuisine: Balsamic vinegar has its roots in Italian cuisine, particularly in the region of Modena in Italy. It is a common ingredient in Italian dishes, such as Caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), bruschetta, risotto, grilled vegetables, and marinades for meats.

  2. Mediterranean cuisine: Balsamic vinegar is also prevalent in Mediterranean cuisine. It is used in Greek salads, roasted vegetables, sauces, dressings, and dips like tzatziki. It adds a tangy and slightly sweet flavor to the dishes.

  3. French cuisine: While not native to French cuisine, balsamic vinegar has found its way into various French recipes. It is often used in salad dressings, reductions, glazes for meats, and as a flavor enhancer for sauces and stews.

  4. American cuisine: Balsamic vinegar has gained popularity in American cuisine, particularly in modern and fusion dishes. It is commonly used in salad dressings, drizzled over roasted vegetables, as a glaze for grilled meats, and even incorporated into desserts like strawberries with balsamic vinegar.

What Is The Best Way To Store Balsamic Vinegar?

The best way to store balsamic vinegar is in a cool, dry place away from heat and sunlight, such as a pantry.

What Are The Different Types Of Balsamic Vinegar?

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

  • Vinegar labeled with these names must be produced in either the regions of Modena or Reggio Emilia, Italy. The process of making this takes years and produces an incredibly thick, glossy, flavorful product.
  • Only Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes are used to make this type of balsamic vinegar.
  • The juice from these grapes is aged in wooden barrels for 12 to 18 years to develop its unique flavor. Traditional balsamic vinegar is the highest grade available and is the most expensive.

Commercial-Grade Balsamic Vinegar

  • Commercial grade balsamic vinegars are mass produced and aged for a minimum amount of time and sometimes not at all. These vinegars are made from wine vinegar and often have caramel coloring, thickeners, and flavor added.
  • Commercial grade balsamic vinegar may be labeled simply as "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena" if they are, in fact, produced in that region.
  • Domestic vinegar made in the United States or in other regions can not carry the Modena name.
  • These vinegars are great for salad dressings , marinades , and sauces.

Condiment-Grade Balsamic Vinegar

  • This label is given to a variety of balsamic vinegars that don't quite fit the stringent requirements to be called Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, but have more time and care taken than commercial grades.
  • Vinegars made using the same techniques as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, but produced outside of that region may be labeled as a condiment grade balsamic vinegar.
  • Vinegars that are made by the traditional standards and within the designated regions of Italy, but aged for fewer than 12 years are also considered condiment grade.
  • Condiment grade balsamic vinegars may carry the labels "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI," "condimento balsamico," "salsa balsamica," or "salsa di mosto cotto."
  • These vinegars are similar to traditional, but are more affordable.

White Balsamic Vinegar

  • The must is pressure-cooked to prevent it from browning before it’s aged for a short time. The result is a golden-hued vinegar that tastes like a gentler version of syrupy balsamic.
    • Restaurant chefs use white balsamic vinegar not only for its milder flavor, but also because it won’t turn a salad dressing or sauce brown like the typical balsamic does.
    • Use it in any vinaigrette recipe, for dressing roasted vegetables , or for deglazing a pan of crispy chicken thigh bits .

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Balsamic Vinegar

If used in excess , the acidic content of balsamic can lead to problems like enamel erosion or heartburn.

What Is The Best Substitute For Balsamic Vinegar If I Don't Have Any?

If you don't have balsamic vinegar on hand, there are a few substitutes you can use, depending on the purpose of the vinegar in your recipe. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  1. Red Wine Vinegar: Red wine vinegar is a good substitute for balsamic vinegar in terms of flavor. It has a similar tanginess and acidity that can work well in dressings, marinades, and sauces. However, keep in mind that red wine vinegar is generally lighter in color and lacks the sweetness of balsamic vinegar.

  2. Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar can be used as a substitute in certain recipes, particularly those that require a slightly sweet and fruity flavor. While it may not have the same depth and complexity as balsamic vinegar, it can still provide a tangy and acidic element.

  3. White Wine Vinegar: White wine vinegar is milder in flavor compared to red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. It can work as a substitute in recipes that require a more delicate taste. However, it lacks the sweetness of balsamic vinegar, so you may need to add a small amount of sugar or honey to balance the flavors.

  4. Sherry Vinegar: Sherry vinegar has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor that can be used as a substitute for balsamic vinegar in some recipes. It can provide a similar depth and complexity, although it may not be as widely available as other vinegar options.

  5. Balsamic Glaze: If you have a balsamic glaze or reduction on hand, it can be a convenient substitute for balsamic vinegar. It has a thicker consistency and intensified flavor due to the reduction process. Use it sparingly as a replacement, as it may be sweeter and more concentrated.

Nutritional Facts
1 tbsp
Amount per serving
2.7 g
0 g
0.1 g
Saturated Fat
0 g
3.7 mg
2.4 g

Best Balsamic Vinegar Recipes