Balsamic vinegar originated in Italy and was first mentioned during the middle ages in a document dated 1046 A.D. It’s name comes from the word “balsimico” which means “balsam-like” and refers to a restorative or curative potion. Balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of trebbiano grape juice. The resulting thick syrup is subsequently aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of seven barrels of successively smaller sizes. The casks are made of different woods like chestnut, acacia, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash, and juniper. True balsamic vinegar is rich, glossy, deep brown in color and has a complex flavor that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the casks.
There are three types of balsamic vinegar:
1. Authentic traditional artisan balsamic vinegar, the only kind that may legally be described as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale in the EU.
2. Commercial grade balsamic vinegars produced on an industrial scale.
3. Condimento grade products, which are often a mix of the two above.
The names “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena) and “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia” (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia) are protected by both the Italian Denominazione di Origine Protetta and the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin.
Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena) designates the different ages of their balsamic vinegar by the color of the cap on the bottle. A cream-colored cap means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a magenta cap bearing the designation extravecchio (extra old) shows the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more. It comes in a bottle with a bulb at the bottom and a long neck.
Reggio Emilia uses a system of different label colors to indicate the age of its balsamic vinegars (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia). A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years and a gold label that designates the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more. It comes in a bottle with an inverted tulip shape.
While not an authentic balsamic vinegar, white balsamic vinegar has become recently widely available. It is a light colored vinegar that is used in place of regular balsamic when discoloration is undesirable. White balsamic is made from combining white wine vinegar with white grape must, and then cooked slowly. It is not generally aged.
Balsamic vinegar is the best-selling vinegar in the U.S., accounting for over 45% of all vinegar sales. Prices can range from $2-$3 a bottle to over $200, based on the quality. It can be stored indefinitely in a cool, dark place.
One tablespoon of balsamic vinegar has 14 calories, 2.7 g of carbohydrates (from sugar), and 0.1 g of protein. It is low in sodium and does not contain any fats.
In ancient times balsamic vinegar was said to be a miracle cure and was used to treat everything from a mild headache to labor pains. It’s antibacterial and antiviral properties make it ideal for disinfecting wounds and infections. Balsamic vinegar can be used on nail infections and even acne! It is high in antioxidants that protect the body from heart disease and cancer. It also suppresses the body’s appetite and increase the amount of time it takes for the stomach to empty, which can contribute to weight loss by preventing overeating. Balsamic vinegar also improves insulin sensitivity which promotes blood sugar regulation.
Balsamic vinegar is used in salad dressings and in dips and marinades. In Italy it is also served on slices of parmesan cheese and mortadella (a cured meat like bologna) as an antipasto. It is also used sparingly to enhance steaks, eggs or grilled fish, as well as on fresh fruit such as strawberries and pears and even on vanilla gelato!