History of Balsamic Vinegar
Like many English words, the origin of ‘vinegar’ is French, in this case ‘vin aigre’, meaning ‘sour wine’. Why? Vinegar is produced through the fermentation of the natural sugars in alcohol and then secondary fermentation to vinegar.
Vinegar has been made for over 10,000 years. It was produced initially through the fermentation of natural sugars in grape ‘must’ (the result of the pressing process), beyond alcohol to acetic acid. In a major study on fruit growing ─ “La Pomona Italiana”, published in 1839 ─ Count Giorgio Gallesio divided vinegars into two categories: those made from cooked must only, and those made from “fermented must and wine”. He described the former, Balsamic Vinegar, as “exquisite” and the latter as “also excellent”.
Balsamic vinegars made from the cooked reduction of grape must have been made in and around Modena, Italy dating back to the traditions of the ancient Romans. The term “balsamic” is relatively new in the world of vinegar; its earliest recording was in the records of the ducal inventories of the Este Palace in Modena in 1747.
The vinegar produced today is much like the product of years past, but with newly discovered flavours. The mainstays of the category ─ white distilled, cider, wine, and malt ─ have been joined by balsamic, rice, rice wine, raspberry, pineapple, chardonnay, and many other flavoured and seasoned vinegars. Balsamic vinegars have become very popular in a wide range of cuisines.
Production of Balsamic Vinegar
As in the case of extra-virgin olive oils, the production of the highly-prized traditional balsamic vinegar is governed by very strict regulations administered by a Consortium of producers (Consorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico di Modena). Learn More about the production of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
The next grade in balsamic vinegars is called ‘condimento’. This grade may be labelled as “condimento balsamico”, “salsa balsamico”, or “salsa di mosto cotta”. Condimento balsamic vinegar can be made in a variety of ways, learn more about the production of Condimento Balsamic.
The third major grade for balsamic vinegars is “commercial grade”, which is also not Consortium approved. It is typically produced from white wine vinegar to which various additions have been made in order to simulate traditional balsamic vinegar in taste, texture, and colour.
For a balsamic vinegar that you can afford to enjoy every day, try Frescolio’s condimento which, in our opinion, very closely resembles traditional balsamic.
White Balsamic Vinegar
The processes described above have all been in the context of ‘dark balsamic vinegar’, more often called simply ‘balsamic vinegar’. There are also ‘white balsamic vinegars’. You might wonder, “What is the difference, other than colour?” In contrast to what’s been described above, the reduction process is different for white balsamics. These are reduced for a much shorter period of time, because the extended cooking causes carmelization to take place, and carmelization adds deeper colour. In addition, the aging process is much shorter, again since extended aging will deepen the colour. Some producers use stainless steel barrels to age the vinegar, rather than wood, so that no colouring is imparted to the vinegar. White balsamics are sometimes preferred for aesthetic reasons, since they do not impart the deep colour of dark balsamics to the food preparation in which they are used.
Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
Several health benefits have been documented for balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar gives us an alternative to foods we regularly eat but which aren’t particularly good for us. It is low in fat, so there is an obvious benefit when it is substituted for other salad dressings or marinades that contain higher levels of fat. Also, it is estimated to have only one-fifth the calories of the same amount of a mayonnaise-based dressing. It contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium. It is a source of calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, and potassium.Learn More: Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar