Not all balsamic vinegars are authentic. Some are downright unhealthy. But the real stuff is incredible and also good for you. This whole topic can be confusing so I created a primer to answer the question “how is balsamic vinegar made?” and to help you understand the difference between real and fake balsamic vinegar.
Real balsamic contains just one ingredient – grapes. Whole grapes are crushed into juice and cooked into a reduction called “grape must.” Then it goes through a process of being aged in successively smaller wooden barrels for 12 to 100 years. This is all done under the supervision by a consortium in Modena or Reggio Emilia, Italy.
This syrupy sweet reduction is labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP.
Authentic balsamic vinegar is very expensive – the longer it’s aged, the more it costs. If you can find an affordable source, I recommend having it on hand to be used sparingly; it’s delightful. Organic authentic balsamic is the absolute best.
Just a little bit goes a long way. My Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes recipe goes from delicious to divine with just a drizzle.
Benefits of balsamic vinegar
Not only is balsamic vinegar delicious, in a clinical trial it has been shown to contain health benefits including:
- reduces triglycerides and cholesterol
- contains abundant antioxidants in the form of polyphenols
- inhibits LDL oxidation and LDL-induced foam cell formation (implicated in atherosclerosis )
Acceptable balsamic vinegar
Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP contains wine vinegar in addition to grape must. It may also contain other ingredients such as caramel coloring, so read the label. The grapes do not have to be grown in Italy; however, the balsamic must be produced there. When labeled IGP, it doesn’t go through the same aging process or supervision as balsamic vinegar labeled DOP, and it definitely doesn’t taste as wonderful. Again, look for organic.
Fake balsamic vinegar
Then there is totally fake balsamic vinegar that’s basically grape juice plus wine vinegar, caramel coloring – and possibly brown sugar, guar gum, and corn flour. Don’t be misled by the label “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” (Aceto Balsamico di Modena). This is still a commercial, imitation product. Stay away from this imitation version.