Huffpost Taste

Why Balsamic Vinegar Isn't What You Think It Is

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Flickr: beatrice ughi
Flickr: beatrice ughi

We hope you like your salad with a side of fraud, especially if you've dressed it with a balsamic vinaigrette. Everyone calls balsamic "vinegar," and there's no reason for you to have assumed that balsamic is anything but the product its name suggests. It's only natural that you'd assume balsamic vinegar is in fact, well, balsamic vinegar.

We hate to be the ones to tell you this, but you've been lied to. First of all balsamic vinegar isn't like other vinegars. Balsamic is made from aged pressed grapes, not wine, and the very definition of vinegar is a product made from fermented alcohol. Liars. But that's not the only bit of fraud with which balsamic is riddled. Most of the balsamic you buy at the grocery store isn't even balsamic at all.

People ought to know what balsamic vinegar really is -- and what you're getting when you buy it at the supermarket. Take a minute and let us break it down for you.

  • 1
    Balsamic vinegar is NOT like other vinegars.
    DEA / G. MAJNO via Getty Images
    What defines a vinegar is the fermentation of alcohol -- typically wine but also beer or cider -- into acetic acid. Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are made that way. Balsamic isn't made like that.
  • 2
    Balsamic vinegar isn't made from wine, but from the juice of grape pressings.
    DEA / G. CAPPELLI via Getty Images
    Historically, balsamic vinegar was not oxidized at all but was just type of grape juice reduction. Today, to make balsamic vinegar, grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup -- usually it's the white Trebbiano grape, but Lambrusco, Ancellotta and Sauvignon can also be used -- a little mother vinegar is added to it and then it's aged under rigid restrictions.
  • 3
    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 (wannabe) vinegar.
  • 4
    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.
  • 5
    Watch out for fake balsamic!
    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,” or “Mosto d'Uva."
  • 6
    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.)
  • 7
    Even if it's not TRUE vinegar, it still tastes awesome on everything.
    svariophoto via Getty Images
    When it's the real deal, we'd drink it straight from the barrel.

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