Cauliflower moment…balsamic is just a pricey form of vinegar I use on salads…good balsamic is more like a bottle of expensive red wine and tastes amazing as a drink.
Balsamic vinegar not only has amazing taste (when you get the real thing), but also offers all the health benefits of red wine without the alcohol. But, not all balsamic vinegars are created the same, and many have additives that do more harm than good. We have become “balsamic obsessed” after trying real balsamic for the first time at a tasting. OMG! Such rich, sweet, amazing variety of tastes. Curiosity led us to begin investigating what it was made of and if there were any harmful qualities.
We were so happily surprised to uncover that balsamic has a multitude of health benefits and little to no detriments! But this also led us to discover that there are many different varieties of balsamic – and many that are so far from the real thing that they should actually be called red wine vinegar instead.
- First we will explain what we learned about how balsamic is made.
- Next we will explain the different labeling practices so you can identify a good (and good-for-you) balsamic when you’re shopping.
- Then we will simplify the process of finding a great balsamic by making you aware of the ingredients you need to look for and those you need to avoid.
- Last, in attached articles, we will explain why we are so excited about the amazing health benefits…
- and finally we will introduce you to balsamic drinks and recipes – so amazingly delicious!
What is balsamic vinegar?
True balsamic vinegar comes from white Trebbiano grapes in the northern Italian Modena region. The grapes have a high sugar content and their unfermented juice is used to make the vinegar. This fermentation process uses up the natural sugars which is why balsamic is so low on the glycemic index scale; the process is much like how Kombucha is made. To do this the juice is first reduced down to 30% of volume to form a “grape must”, followed by a 12 – 30 year fermentation of the must in a variety of wood barrels during which time the flavors and various other bioactive compounds form and develop. Which is why true balsamic is expensive, going for as much as several hundred dollars a bottle. This traditional balsamic vinegar is called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
No worries…You can get a very good, reasonably priced balsamic created from grape must, which still gives you the amazing health benefits….but beware the cheaper varieties…in this case you get what you pay for.
How do I find good balsamic vinegar?
All balsamic vinegars fall into three categories: Tradizionale (DOP), Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (IGP or PGI)), or Condimento Balsamic Vinegar.
DOP Tradizionale – This is the traditional balsamic made in small-batches that are aged 12 – 30 years. It bears the a Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) seal indicating use of locally grown ingredients from Modena and Reggio Emilia and adherence to strict guidelines. The color of the label indicates the minimum level of aging: Red means 12 years, silver means 18 years, and gold means 25 years+. This balsamic is expensive, thick and richly flavored and used primarily for drizzling over finished meats, desserts or taken straight after meals as an aperitif
IGP (PGI) Balsamic of Modena – This is aceto balsamico di Modena. It will bear the IGP (Protected Geographic Identification) seal. Balsamic Vinegar must have an acidity level of at least 6% and for that reason it will always have a percentage of wine vinegar in it. These can still be artisan, phenomenal, high-end products, made with 100% grape must (or even organic grape must), and they’ll typically market themselves as “Traditional” or Tradizionale (though the use of the word “traditional” is no guarantee of quality: look for the ingredients and the age statement). Due to very little regulation, they can also have a higher vinegar base with only a small amount of grape must and added sugar for sweetness and thickening. If the vinegar seems thick and has a more complex taste, it probably has a higher amount of grape must – thin and tart tasting, a higher amount of wine vinegar. These are both still good vinegars to use for marinades and dressings, although the higher the grape must = the higher the health benefits.
Condimento Balsamic Vinegar – Decieving because they lok and read like they are real balsamic vinegars..but they are far from it. These are the standard balsamics you find in grocery stores. They are inexpensive and can taste good in dressings and other recipes where you use vinegar. BUT, beware that many are synthesized and have added colorings and sweeteners to make them look like the better quality balsamics. They may likely say words like, “from Modena”, “traditional”, “aged”, or even “made in Italy”, but they could likely be made from grapes from anywhere with sugar and coloring to make them look and taste like the real thing. The negative is that they do not give you the health benefits that real balsamic does and if containing additives, could very likely cause more harm for you than good.
How do you know what your buying is real and good for you?
- Look for the IGA, PGI or DOP stamp. No stamp – then the product is not real balsamic.
- ….don’t give up yet! It might still be a good product?…
- Look at the ingredients. It should contain grape must, grape juice and maybe a little red vinegar. Nothing else.
- Look at the price. In this case, cheaper means cheaper made. Stay away from buying any with any additives besides grape must, grape juice and red wine vinegar. Read more in this article about balsamic vinegar.
Does it really make a difference?
Yes. To your taste, to your pocketbook, to your health, and to your cooking style.
If you’re looking to improve your health and enjoy the taste of incredibly delicious balsamic it will cost you a bit more….but you use way less because the flavors are so intense. These good balsamics will cost you about $15.00 for 12 – 16 oz. and can be found in the better grocery stores, olive oil/ balsamic tasting stores, or ordered from independent retailers online. We highly recommend going to a tasting and discovering how delicious balsamic vinegar really is.
Read the following article to learn “10 Ways Balsamic Improves Your Health” – all about the amazing health benefits you can get from using it – that’s money well spent on yourself and your family. Trust us…good balsamic tasting will let you discover a new world of delicious!
Check out our latest tasting adventure in Murphy’s, CA.