Balsamic Vinegar – Better When Aged

A good balsamic vinegar can mean the difference between a salad that you can’t wait to dig your fork into, and one you find yourself pushing around your plate. Rich, dark and piquant, it’s a match made in heaven with high quality olive oil, and can help blur the line between savory snack and elegant dessert. Just the thought of its tart flavor on your tongue can jump-start your salivary glands into action. Let’s take a look at what makes this acidic seasoning so remarkable…

Vinegar History

Legend has it that vinegar was discovered in a Babylonian court around 5,000 BC after wine was left unattended until it fermented. However, its earliest known use was more than 10,000 years ago. First, vinegar was used as a food preservative, and then people discovered it could be useful in other applications. Lots of familiar names throughout history have found innovative ways to employ this wonderful liquid – Hippocrates used it medicinally for wound management around 420 BC and revered military leader Hannibal allegedly used it to dissolve boulders blocking the path of his army in battle! In the 10th century, Sung Tse recommended washing hands with sulfur and vinegar to prevent infection during autopsies and doctors in colonial America used it to help with a wide variety of ailments, from stomachache to poison ivy rashes. We’ve come a long way medicine-wise since then, but thanks to our distant ancestors, we have found numerous ways to enliven our salads and cooking with the delicious taste of vinegar.

How Vinegar Is Made

The process of making vinegar is fascinating. You start with any carbohydrate source – fruit, vegetable, honey or molasses, beer or wine, grains or whey and allow it to undergo a two-stage fermentation process. First, yeast ferments the naturally occurring simple sugars in the starting material to alcohol. Then, acetic acid bacteria oxidizes that alcohol to form acetic acid, which is responsible for the tartness and pungent odor associated with vinegar. In the United States, vinegar products must contain at least 4% acidity, while European countries have their own regional standards for acidity. Commercial vinegar can be made in as little as one day, but traditionally-made versions can take months or years to age to perfection. As it ages, it’s moved to progressively smaller and smaller barrels, ranging in size from about 75 liters to 10 liters. That longer fermentation mellows the vinegar and produces rich flavors, much like the process for aging wine!

balsamic vinegar benefits and vinaigrette recipes

Balsamic Vinegar and Other Vinegar Types

Vinegars are produced throughout the world, and the types are as varied as the countries that produce them. We know the ancient Babylonians sold vinegar flavored with fruit, honey and malt, and these types are still found today. People tend to use what they’ve got on hand – their local natural resources – to make vinegar. Hence, Southeast Asia is known for its mild coconut vinegar. Italy uses grapes for its famous balsamic vinegar, as does France to make a light-tasting champagne vinegar. Taiwan, Japan and other parts of Asia make earthy rice, potato, and even kombucha vinegars. And then there are some types, like apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar, that are made worldwide. Of course, there is also everyone’s favorite – balsamic vinegar.

Did you know that balsamic vinegar is actually made from white grapes? Given its dark, gorgeous color, you’d think it would be made with red grapes! Balsamic vinegar is traditionally made in Modena, Italy from sweet, local Trebbiano white grapes that have been picked at the absolute last minute for peak flavor. The grapes are then pressed to expel the grape juice, which is allowed to slowly ferment and age in wood casks to concentrate the flavor and get that deep wine hue. The result is an absolutely delicious, almost syrupy, wine-colored liquid with an unmistakably sweet and sour tang that enhances virtually everything you put it on!

High quality balsamic vinegar only contains natural fruit sugars from the grapes, while lesser quality versions may have added sugars. According to the USDA, one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar contains 2.4 grams of sugar and 2.7 grams of carbohydrates. So, in moderation, balsamic vinegar could be considered keto-friendly. Some choose to mix it with another vinegar with negligible carbs or sugar, such as apple cider or white vinegar, to still get that balsamic taste. Another great thing about balsamic vinegar is that – like most vinegars – it never goes bad stored at room temperature! Once opened, you probably want to consume it within 2 years and keep the cap tightly closed for best flavor and acidity.

Balsamic Vinegar Recipes

There’s nothing like an easy balsamic vinaigrette to dress up a salad, and below are a few easy recipes that anyone can make in a flash. All you have to do is whisk together the ingredients in a small bowl, or combine them in a small jar and shake until emulsified.

Besides being super easy to make, these balsamic vinaigrette recipes are so much healthier for you than ready-made, store-bought vinaigrettes that can contain all kinds of ingredients you don’t want:  soybean oil, added sugars, stabilizing additives, artificial colors and preservatives – no thank you!

When making balsamic vinaigrettes yourself with 100% cold-pressed olive oils, you get not only delectable flavor but the unparalleled nutrition and benefits from high quality, polyphenol-rich olive oil.

Delicious Salads Featuring Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I happen like the flavor of olive oil so much, I prefer not to add much vinegar to my dressings; hence the varying amounts below. When making the recipes below, I suggest starting conservatively with the balsamic vinegar, then add more to taste.

Easy Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1-2 Tbsp organic balsamic vinegar or a flavored balsamic vinegar (like fig balsamic)
  • Natural salt and pepper, a few grinds of each, to taste

This dressing comes together in no time at all, and the smooth olive oil pairs seamlessly with either balsamic vinegar. For a sweeter vinaigrette, use the fig balsamic vinegar.

Tangy Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe

  • 1/3 Cup EVOO
  • 2 Tbsp organic balsamic vinegar or fig balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Natural salt and pepper, a few grinds of each, to taste

For a delicious, tangy vinaigrette with a bit of a bite, nothing’s better than organic olive oil with its peppery finish paired with robust Dijon mustard. Smoothed out with our balsamic vinegar, it’s the perfect combination of sweet and spicy that’ll have you coming back time and time again to this simple recipe; use fig vinegar for a sweeter vinaigrette.

Blood Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe

  • 1/3  cup blood orange flavored olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp organic balsamic vinegar or fig balsamic
  • Natural salt and pepper, a few grinds of each, to taste

This tangy balsamic vinaigrette boasts a sweet citrus subtlety. It is awesome on arugula salad with beets, goat cheese and walnuts. Sweeten it up by substituting a fig flavored balsamic vinegar.

You Can’t Beat the Health Benefits of Beets

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Recipe

  • 2 cups organic balsamic vinegar

Place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vinegar reduces to about 1/2 cup and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. (Note that it will continue to thicken as it cools) Cool completely, then use as desired.

This balsamic reduction, also known as balsamic glaze, is another incredibly easy recipe that’ll make all the difference in your cooking! Spoon it over tomatoes and mozzarella for a scrumptious Caprese salad, drizzle it on or under fish or chicken as a finishing touch, or even use it on  strawberries, blackberries or melon for a simple dessert that brings out the sweetness of the fruit. Mangiare!

References

Budak H, et al. Functional Properties Of VinegarJournal of Food Science. 2014 May 8; Volume 79, Issue 5, Pages R757-R7649. Last accessed: May 8, 2020.

Johnston C, et al. Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic EffectMedGenMed. 2006; 8(2): 61. Last accessed: May 8, 2020.

Nutritionix Database. Vinegar, Balsamic – 1 Tbsp. Nutrinix.com, last accessed July 2, 2020 at https://www.nutritionix.com/i/usda/vinegar-balsamic-1-tbsp/513fceb375b8dbbc210002a3

Still Tasty. Food Storage – How Long Can You Keep…Vinegar- Balsamic, Commercially Bottled – Unopened or Opened. Stilltasty.com, last accessed July 2, 2020 at https://www.stilltasty.com/fooditems/index/18644.

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