Olive oil’s best friend - balsamic vinegar.
Read more to learn everything that’s important about this tart and flavorful concoction.
- The History of Balsamic Vinegar
- What is special about Balsamic Vinegar?
- What's the difference between Balsamic Vinegar and regular vinegar?
- What are the health benefits of Balsamic Vinegar?
- Why is Balsamic Vinegar bad for you?
- What do you use Balsamic Vinegar for?
The History of Balsamic Vinegar
The first ever reference to balsamic vinegar dates back to the year 1046. It was recorded that in this year, a bottle of balsamic vinegar was gifted to Emperor Enrico III of Franconia.
It’s been reported that during the middle ages, it was used as a disinfectant as well as a “cure-all” elixir - a liquid used to treat everything from labor pains to the common cold. As time passed “aceto balsamico“ did not grow in popularity. In fact, most people outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia did not know of balsamic vinegar.
The people of Reggio and Modena Italy considered balsamic vinegar an important and symbolic product. A new barrel of vinegar was produced with every birth of a child, and aged reserves were given to newly weds at weddings. Small amounts of an aged reserve were given to traveling friends and important dignitaries and doctors. The barrels of a family’s reserve were usually stored in the attic where they aged like fine wines, creating more complex flavors and depths with the passing years. Balsamic soon became a symbol of peace for this region of Italy.
Balsamic vinegar that we know today did not develop popularity until around the 1900s. Culinary arts were on the rise and aspiring chefs were traveling around the world in search of different ingredients, techniques and flavor profiles. This is when it was discovered that balsamic vinegar complimented the flavors of the Mediterranean diet - fish, fruits, veggies, lean meats and legumes.
What is special about Balsamic Vinegar?
The most special thing about balsamic vinegar is the way it’s made.
So how is balsamic vinegar made?
Traditionally, It starts with white grapes. Similar to wine, white grapes that are recently harvested will be pressed for their juice. The grape juice is then boiled until the sugar concentration is reduced - or until it reaches a “must” consistency. “Must” meaning a fermented concentration.
From there, the must is allowed to age for a long period of time, which lets the flavors become more concentrated. During this time, the must is stored in wooden barrels or casks. During storage, a portion evaporates from the mixture and develops a hint of a sweet flavor.
Unlike wine vinegar which ages for 2 years, the storage process of balsamic allows it to be aged for a minimum of 12 years. Some creators will even allow the vinegar to age up to 25 years. Similar to wine, a longer ageing process correlates to high quality.
What’s really special about Balsamic vinegar is that it is produced exclusively in Emilia Romagna or Modena. In fact, it is a product that has a Protected Geographical Indication status or “PGI”.
A PGI is meant to promote and protect names of quality agricultural products. Similar to how “real champagne” can only come from the Champagne region of France. How cool!
What's the difference between Balsamic Vinegar and regular vinegar?
The difference between balsamic and regular red wine vinegar comes down to taste and their uses.
Balsamic is usually dark in color and thick in consistency. Think of a runny syrup. However the taste is described as sweet and acidic. This bitter-sweet flavor is much different than red wine vinegar, which tastes much bolder and tangier than balsamic.
Red wine vinegar is less opaque than balsamic and has a closer consistency to water.
Many would describe the taste as sour compared to the mellowed sweetness of balsamic.
Balsamic contains about 6% of Acetic Acid, Which is about the same amount found in red wine vinegar. Low quality balsamics will actually be mixed with red wine vinegar, especially if they are produced outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
What are the health benefits of Balsamic Vinegar?
A few benefits of balsamic include cosmetic, health and wellness. Cosmetically, balsamic can be used to improve the health of skin. When applied topically to skin, the antioxidants help improve complexions and can clear up acne. Beware that it can stain skin, so don't let it sit on the surface of the skin for too long!
In terms of health benefits, balsamic can aid in reducing blood sugar, cholesterol and weight. The probiotics and antioxidants in balsamic allow a person’s blood levels to spike less after meals, as well as block toxic cells in the boat that heighten the level of cholesterol. The probiotics in balsamic can help you feel full for longer, therefore influencing you to consume less calories throughout the day.
When it comes to wellness, balsamic can help in simple ways such as treating wounds in a pinch or promoting healthy digestion. During the middle ages, balsamic was considered a “cure-all” and that’s not too far from the truth. Due to the antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties it makes for a crafty way to heal minor wounds. The probiotics found in balsamic can aid in digestion. By consuming on a regular basis, balsamic can improve your overall “gut health” as well as supporting your immune system.
Remember to always consult your doctor before changing your diet.
Why is Balsamic Vinegar bad for you?
One concern when consuming balsamic is teeth health. Although balsamic is less acidic than other vinegars - it still has the ability to erode tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is the outer visible covering of teeth that protects the inner nerves of teeth from acidic, hot, and cold elements. Balsamic usually contains a PH level of about 4, a PH level of 0 is the most acid. A PH level of 4 is similar to the PH level found in products like black coffee, soda, beer or orange juice. Although not the best for tooth enamel, consuming balsamic vinegar on a semi-regular basis will not detrimentally affect your teeth. Remember to always consult your doctor before changing your diet.
What do you use Balsamic Vinegar for?
Some interesting ways you can use aged balsamic vinegar in your day to day life includes appetizers, entrees and even desert!
- Drizzle over salads along with olive oil for an easy and low calorie salad dressing.
- Combine with olive oil and seasonings for an easy Italian bread dip appetizer before any meal.
- Drizzle over buttery and mild cheeses like brie on your charcuterie board to add complexity to the flavor profile.
- Combine Mozzarella, tomato, and fresh basil in a bowl. Top with balsamic, salt and pepper for a traditional Caprese Salad.
- Drizzle over pure vanilla ice cream for an elevated and complex flavor profile.
- Drizzle over fresh fruit for a fun contrast of sweet and acid.
- Soak chopped cucumbers and green onions in balsamic vinegar for a simple and refreshing snack.
- Drizzle on your favorite pizza for an extra “bite” of flavor.
- More traditional methods of using balsamic vinegar is creating a balsamic glaze for hearty and savory proteins. To do this, heat balsamic vinegar and a bit of brown sugar in a saucepan until thick enough to coak the back of a spoon. Then drizzle over roasted chicken, fish, steak or vegetables.
At this point, there’s no reason you shouldn't include balsamic into your daily meals. At Dagostino’s we love our “house balsamic”. Imported from Mondena, this balsamic is aged for 12 years, and carefully monitored and regulated by the balsamic consortium. The impressive result is a rich, aromatic vinegar with complex flavor, aroma and color and perfect sweetness.