What is Balsamic Vinegar? Most likely known as the standard staple nestled in the back of your pantry reserved for the occasional tomato basil salad, balsamic vinegar is a unique piece of Italy’s history. The ancient Romans believed that cooked grape mash, or must (the main component of balsamic vinegar) was more than a dressing for foods: it was also a healing elixir. Even the name “balsamic” refers to the original medicinal purpose of this alleged restorative “balm,” indicating its place in ancient society as a tonic.
Much like champagne, the most authentic balsamic vinegar comes solely from the Reggio Emilia and Modena regions of Italy. The two areas have been perfecting the art of this dressing and condiment since the year 1100, when Balsamic Vinegar was a popular gift for visiting royalty and nobility. 1
This storied history attached to balsamic vinegar makes it an exciting addition to Italian-inspired recipes and dishes, as does its versatility. From balsamic reductions, to glazes, even as a sweet and sour drizzle on vanilla ice cream, there’s no limit to the culinary uses of balsamic vinegar. Dressed up or dressed down, this condiment has serious kitchen staying power. Despite its ubiquity in most chef’s pantries, most folks don’t know the secret benefits and advantages of adding this condiment/dressing hybrid into your meal routine.
Is Balsamic Vinegar Good for You?
The Ancient Romans may have been on to something. Many cultures cite natural vinegars and vinegar products as a source for various therapeutic properties. While you won’t find doctors writing prescriptions for balsamic vinegar anytime soon, some studies show that consuming certain vinegars in their recommended amounts could have some benefits. 2
The Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
There’s not a lot of research behind the health effects of balsamic vinegar, but the handful of studies available show that when broken down, the bioactive components found in balsamic vinegar can be linked to a myriad of benefits.
Depending on processing, some natural vinegar products may contain some combination of acetic acid, gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, and ferulic acid, which have been linked to having possible antimicrobial, antitumor, antiobesity, antihypertensive, and cholesterol-lowering effects. 3
A study found that some fruit vinegars, again, depending on processing, could contain antioxidants. 4 Antioxidants could help your body block the negative effects of oxidative stress, and research has shown their effects against cancer and aging. In addition, antioxidants may provide preventative protection against cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and other diseases. 5 As far as how much antioxidant content is in your vinegar once it’s been processed, it’s hard to say.
Some fruit vinegars could contain polyphenols, 6 another type of antioxidant which are thought to lower the risk of certain conditions. Some studies show that polyphenols may encourage immune system as well. 7
Balsamic Vinegar: Calories and Carbs?
Quality over quantity. When it comes to balsamic vinegar, carbs and calories tend to vary depending on processing methods, and depending on the richness of the final product. Quality of ingredients and authenticity of production are paramount when it comes to choosing a Balsamic Vinegar, especially with a serving size suggestion of just one tablespoon. Generally speaking, most balsamic vinegars range between 10-30 calories and about 7-8g of carbohydrates per serving.8
People tend to use less of a high-quality balsamic vinegar compared to lower quality variety to achieve a similar flavor intensity.
How to Choose the Best Balsamic Vinegar
There’s no shortage of balsamic vinegar options in your neighborhood grocery store, and with a plethora of culinary uses, choosing the best balsamic vinegar is no easy task. When searching for your pick, here’s what to keep an eye out for:
PGI Certification. PGI (or, “Protected Geographic Origin”) Certification is set by the European Union to validate a product’s adherence to local heritage. To earn a PGI ( or, in Italian, IGP) certification, at least one or more steps of the preparation process must occur in the region, and the ingredients used must be closely connected to the area. A PGI Certification maintains the integrity and authenticity of the product.
Ingredient Quality. When it comes to Italian-inspired cooking, authenticity and quality of ingredients are key. Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients will let the natural flavor of the product shine through.
Area of Origin. Similar to the PGI Certification, true Balsamic Vinegar will be from or somehow connected to Modena or Emilio Reggia, Italy. 9
Taste. Depending on the variation of vinegar you select, tastes will vary. Traditional balsamic vinegar will have a certain smoky quality, due to its extended aging process, while Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is more tangy and sweet.
How Is Balsamic Vinegar Made?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made in the Emilio Reggia or Modena regions of Italy, and begins by cooking grape mash (must). It is then brought through a series of fermentations and aged in a wooden barrel. 10
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
The aging process differs depending on the type of balsamic. For traditional balsamic vinegars, at least 12 years aging is required, with many being aged for over 25 years. Talk about patience! Balsamic vinegar of Modena, one of the most versatile variants, is only aged for two months. As you might expect, the aging process affects the taste and texture. 11
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: Why It Matters
A type of balsamic vinegar you might already be using or have seen stocked in market shelves, is Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena refers to not only the origin of its creation, but also the origin of the ingredients used to make it. More widely available, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has a wide range of culinary uses. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is slow-cooked, for a distinct flavor profile of sweet and sour, with a thicker, syrup-like consistency.
Primal Kitchen®’s recently launched Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is PGI Certified and made with Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients, for a high-quality, flavor-forward take that maintains Italian authenticity.
Balsamic Vinegar Uses
Dressing for salads
Marinade for meats
Glaze for roasted vegetables
Reduction, to bring out the sweetness and change the texture
Personalized homemade vinaigrette
How to Make Easy Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette
Who doesn’t love a vinaigrette to dress up salads and charcuterie? A good rule of thumb to follow is a oil and vinegar dressing ratio of 3 to 1.
Here’s a basic balsamic vinaigrette recipe:
1/4 cup Primal Kitchen® balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup Primal Kitchen® extra virgin olive oil or PK avocado oil
1 tbsp Primal Kitchen® dijon
Salt and pepper to taste
From there, make it your own! Add a clove of garlic, a drizzle of honey, a pinch of herbs, a squeeze of lemon etc.