What is balsamic vinegar?
There are two top grades of balsamic vinegar. True DOP traditional balsamic vinegar must be made either in Emilio Reggiano or Modena, Italy, by cooking high quality carmelized Trebbiano, or occasionally Lambrusco, grapes. (DOP stands for Protected Designation of Origin — the governing board in Italy.) It is cooked in copper kettles over a wood fire until it reaches a specific consistency, density, and amount of dry solid extracts. It must then be put directly into old, fired wood barrels which were used to age balsamic vinegars in years past. The vinegar becomes thicker as it naturally evaporates over time. As it evaporates, it is moved from barrel to smaller barrel, being topped off with slightly younger balsamic vinegar. As a result, no product, including actual DOP certified balsamic vinegar sold in licensed bottles, can make an actual age claim. However, generalization of “25 year old” vinegar is considered to be an acceptable short-hand description.
Pro-biotic wild yeast and acetic bacteria colonize the vinegar and eventually raise the acidity, thus turning it into “vinegar” over a period of years. It can only be sold in tiny bottles that meet strict criteria. It is never, ever sold in bulk. Because of its rarity, it is very high priced ($75-200 per 100 ml bottle) and is only used a drop or two at a time.
What is balsamic vinegar condimento?
The vinegar sold at Anacortes Oil and Vinegar Bar is the second type of approved balsamic vinegar. Our balsamic vinegar condimento starts in the very same way as true DOP traditional balsamic vinegar. It is produced in Modena, Italy, using the same type of grapes and barrels. However, the primary difference between true DOP balsamic vinegar and our condimento is that ours is inoculated with a very small amount of premium quality aged red wine vinegar (less than 2 percent) which introduces the natural acetic bacteria and yeast and begins the process from cooked grape must to balsamic vinegar condimento. (Must is the fleshy part of the grape.) It is then aged in the Solera method, which means it goes through a succession of different types of very old barrels, just like DOP traditional balsamic vinegar. Each previously used barrel contains residual amount of older balsamic condimento dating as far back as 18 years, and in some cases 25 years. It is topped off as it moves from barrel to smaller barrel with slightly younger condimento.
Are there other similar products on the market?
While we all use the term “balsamic vinegar” to indicate a certain type of product, very little balsamic vinegar, as labeled in most stores, is true DOP traditional balsamic vinegar. Many also cannot accurately claim to be true condimento, since short cuts are taken to achieve a similar but inferior product. Imposters are often comprised of poor quality un-aged wine or distilled vinegar, thickeners, color, artificial flavor, syrups, or sweeteners, including corn syrup.
What does this all mean for the consumer?
True DOP traditional balsamic vinegar is very delicious and very expensive. It is rich, thick, and a joy to use. Purchase it from a reliable source and treasure it. Our balsamic condimento is also delicious, albeit not quite as rich and thick. Still, it is also a joy to use and much more affordable to the consumer. You can taste its quality and rely on its method of production, which is approved by the authorities governing its processing in Italy. On the other hand, many companies that claim to offer “balsamic vinegar” can never show proof of authenticity and quality through laboratory chemical analysis. These “vinegars” can be harsh, metallic in taste, overly sweet or have other flavor or density flaws. The choice is up to the consumer, but we believe that our high quality condimento is a wonderful balance of flavor and price.
What are the health benefits of vinegars?
For generations, medical folklore has encouraged people with diabetes to take vinegar (usually apple cider vinegar) to improve health. Recent studies by Arizona University and the Lund Institute in Sweden ran with this idea and found that the acetic acid (present in all types of vinegar, including balsamic) helps to regulate blood sugar levels. As a surprising extra benefit, many of the study subjects also lost several pounds. It is unknown what caused this secondary benefit.
In addition, our vinegars contain vitamins, minerals, and other components that act as natural anti-inflammatories, reducing pain. And they contain anti-oxidants. Our balsamic vinegar condimentos retain their pro-biotics; they are not pasteurized.
Balsamic vinegar tastes sweet; What is the calorie content?
We can’t vouch for any vinegars other than our own. Our vinegar condimentos contain only 10 calories per tablespoon. That’s a lot of flavor for very few calories. The sweetness comes from the evaporation process that condenses the grape juices so it naturally sweetens. We have our vinegars tested; the nutritional information is available to anyone who wishes to see it.
Beware of some brands of balsamic vinegar. Some producers, in order to get the flavor and richness of well-aged vinegars, add corn syrup and other sweeteners to inferior vinegars. The calorie count could be much higher.