Why Balsamic Vinegar Isn't What You Think It Is

06/09/2014 07:00 am ET | Updated Sep 18, 2015
Flickr: beatrice ughi

We hope you like your salad with a side of fraud, because if you've been dressing it with a balsamic vinaigrette chances are that's what you're getting. Unless you've put down a pretty penny on that dressing, it probably contains no real balsamic in it at all.

Balsamic vinegar, the real kind that comes from Modena in Italy and has been carefully aged to dark brown, syrupy perfection, is, well, expensive. Really expensive. Here's what you need to know:

  • 1 If it's cheap, it's probably fake.
    Flickr: ashley tyree
  • If you think you've been scoring a deal with cheap balsamic at the grocery store, think again. Upon closer inspection you might find that what you actually have is imitation balsamic, which is basically cheap wine vinegar with coloring added to it. The key is to look at the ingredients list for the words “grape must”, “aged grape must,” “Mosto d'Uva" or "DOC."
  • 2 Real balsamic vinegar is aged like wine.
    Flickr: Eric and Abbie Harper
  • The aging process is a serious undertaking that can take anywhere from 12-100 years -- and requires meticulous care. (That's why true balsamic vinegars are so ridiculously expensive.) As the syrup thickens and evaporates, it is moved into successively smaller barrels made of different woods -- such as cherrywood, chestnut and ash. This adds to the complex and delicious flavors of balsamic vinegar.
  • 3 It can cost just as much as a great bottle of wine.
    Flickr: Linda
  • Some bottles of TRUE balsamic vinegar can run close to $400 a bottle -- no joke.
  • 4 For true balsamic vinegar, look to Modena or Reggio Emilia.
    Chicago Tribune via Getty Images
  • Only those two regions can produce true balsamic. Look for the seal that certifies its origin. (And don't think you can get it for $5.99.)
  • 5 If you do splurge on a bottle, you should put it on everything.
    svariophoto via Getty Images
  • It has the ability to make any food taste infinitely better.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the process involved in make vinegar and incorrectly stated that balsamic was not technically a vinegar.

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