How Is Balsamic Vinegar Made? Know Food Facts About Vinegar Production

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Feb 25, 2023 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Nov 17, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a wooden background.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 10.0 Min

Do you love balsamic vinegar?

Balsamic vinegar is a decadent condiment, perfect for improving the taste of your salad or cooked meals and recipes. To name a few differences between balsamic and regular vinegar, the former is sweeter, thicker, and darker.

Its strength lies in its versatility, how it goes perfectly with anything from a Brussels sprouts salad to risottos and even sandwich recipes. This versatility extends to its price range as well since a single bottle of balsamic vinegar can go from $3-600 depending on the quality of the wine vinegar!

A commonly asked question about balsamic vinegar is, does it go bad? No, because its high acid environment makes it an inhospitable environment for growing bacteria.

If unopened, the bottle will simply age like fine wine, but if opened, it is recommended that you consume the vinegar within three years and not let it age further.

If you store this bottle in a cool, dry cupboard, away from light and heat, then your very expensive bottle of balsamic vinegar should last you for many, many years to come.

Since there are so many varieties, it should be understood that not all kinds of balsamic vinegar are real. A lot of them are artificial, and therefore, bad for your health. This is why if you're passionate about food and elegant flavors, you must know how traditional balsamic vinegar is made.

If you enjoy this article, why not also read about how is bacon made and how bread is made here on Kidadl?

How is 25-year-old balsamic vinegar made?

Balsamic vinegar or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is a type of vinegar that is produced through an Italian vinegar-making process that dates back to the middle ages. Read on to know about the production and fermentation process of balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic is called so because of the Latin word balsamum. There are two major types: traditional aged balsamic vinegar, which is aged for 12 year and 25 year periods, and modern commercial balsamic vinegar. 

Traditional balsamic is produced with only one ingredient: 'grape must' ('mosto' in Italian). Also more commonly known as freshly pressed grape juice, it is boiled to a concentrate, fermented, and acidified.

Their aging process goes on for 12-25 years in smaller wooden barrels or a cask. There are two varieties of traditional Italian vinegar - the one that is aged for a minimum of 25 years is called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, Extra Vecchio (Extra Old in Italian).

Typically, traditional vinegar must be produced in small barrel batches, so they are expensive and can only be found in a specialty or online store.

On the other hand, modern commercial balsamic wine vinegar is easily available at your nearest convenience store. This type of vinegar is also easier on your wallet since it combines grape wine with vinegar (like balsamic vinegar made in Moderna and an Italy PGI condiment). This is how you make balsamic vinegar from wine.

This is done to speed up the acidification process, and as a result, this vinegar hardly needs more than two months to three years of the aging process in wooden barrels. Mixing wine vinegar with the cooked must or mosto is done to ensure that this type of vinegar is produced more efficiently and aged for less time.

How is balsamic vinegar made in the USA?

Instead of real grape must, fake balsamic vinegars are made from grape juice or grape must be turned into wine vinegar. The color comes with an addition of a tiny bit of caramel as well as a bit of normal vinegar. Traditional Balsamic vinegar is made in batches of very limited numbers, which are sold for very extravagant prices.

This is mostly because shipping vinegar from Italy (that is stored in barrels for at least 12 years in Italy) can be quite expensive. But since there aren't laws against using the product name of 'balsamic vinegar', many stores in the USA have their own knock-off versions of the one found in Italy.

The best way to differentiate these bottles from the real thing is to look out for the DOP and IGP stamps and read through the ingredients carefully. Not only is balsamic vinegar extremely delightful to taste, but it also has tonnes of health benefits, and is not bad for your health at all.

Balsamic vinegar has the tendency to help keep cholesterol in control. Another element of balsamic vinegar is antimicrobial compounds, antioxidants, and acetic acid.

These components primarily help in improving a person's skin health over time. Balsamic vinegar also aids in digestion since acetic acid is an active compound found in vinegar.

How is dark balsamic vinegar made?

The reason aged dark balsamic vinegar is so expensive is that the process for it to be produced is a long one. Check out the steps of production.

First, only certain types of grapes are permitted for the production of Modena DOC wines, which are then used to make Balsamico Tradizionale. The list of seven grapes includes the red variety Lambrusco and the white variety Trebbiano, both of which must be cultivated in the province of Modena, Italy.

The production of traditional balsamic vinegar follows a three-step process.

First, the pressed grape juice is cooked in an open vessel for 12-24 hours, at a minimum temperature of 176 F (80 C). The cooked vinegar must have boiled down to around 30% of its original volume.

After that, the cooked must is ready to be converted into traditional balsamic vinegar by aging the grapes in wooden casks. During the aging process, which takes at least 12 years in barrels, naturally occurring yeasts convert some of the liquid's concentrated sugar content into alcohol.

This alcohol is then further transformed into acetic acid by bacteria, which leads to the transformation of aged must to vinegar.

This whole process takes around one year, after which the vinegar is ready for its third and most important stage of production: maturation. The aging process for the Balsamico Tradizionale is a minimum of 12 years before being released in the market.

Over this time, during the aging process, evaporation reduces the vinegar to its signature syrup-like texture, while oxidation develops the vinegar's powerful fragrance and aids in the creation of an elaborate flavor profile.

Aging takes place in a series of wooden barrels, which are collectively called batteria (battery).

The combination of barrel sizes and materials, in addition to the conditions in the aging rooms, creates an individual flavor profile for each barrel. Before they can release this in the market, the producers are required to send the total volume they wish to sell to the Consorzio (consortium) for evaluation and grading.

Here, a panel of experts blind taste the sample and proceed to grade it on a variety of factors, including color, density, aroma, flavor, and acidity.

If it meets the grade, then the vinegar is bottled and sealed by the Consorzio in clear, q1q glass bottles with a rectangular base. If it's not deemed up to the grade, then the vinegar is returned to the final, smallest cask for additional aging.

These kinds of vinegar can only be sold in this specific type of bottle, and the producers are identifiable by a small label stuck onto the lower front of the bottle.

Since there are a lot of different types of kinds of vinegar, it is easy to get confused. Unless you're an avid user of the specific branded product, it can be difficult to tell which type you're getting.

The label alone might not have all the information you need to assess the quality. Here are certain things to examine while you browse around for your next bottle of vinegar.

A PGI (or IGP), DOP seal on the label certifies that particular bottle of balsamic vinegar as the official Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which means that this bottle of vinegar conforms to their regulated production as well as marketing standards.

Always analyze the back of the bottle to find out the ingredients of your vinegar to know if it's real or not.

A good grade balsamic vinegar should only have around three to four ingredients, including grape must, wine vinegar, and possibly caramel and aged vinegar. Caramel for coloration is considered good grade, but extra added chemicals, thickeners, preservatives, and high sugar content aren't considered good.

Balsamic vinegar can be tart or sweet, depending on which ingredient comes first. If the first ingredient on the back is wine vinegar, the balsamic will be on the sourer side. Alternatively, if the first ingredient is a grape must, then the balsamic should taste more mellow and sweet. The thicker the vinegar, the better.

How can you tell what's inside the bottle? Well, all you have to do is hold up the bottle against a source of light and move it around.

If the liquid leaves a coating on the side of the bottle as you move it around, it is on the thicker side, and therefore, better quality. In general, as a rule of thumb, the higher the price, the better the quality, especially when it comes to balsamic vinegar.

Bowl with traditional Italian Balsamic vinegar

How is chocolate balsamic vinegar made?

To add a great flavor to traditional dark balsamic vinegar, a few makers offer chocolate-flavored balsamic vinegar. They start by toasting and grounding top-quality cacao seeds to form a good base and add to the traditional balsamic vinegar.

Different varieties of distinctive chocolates are used while cooking a perfect depth of sweetness that compliments the woody flavor of balsamic vinegar.

Depending on the volume and texture of wine vinegar added, these vinegars are made to vary in their sweetness and consistency.

There are many varieties of balsamic vinegar like traditional balsamic vinegar: traditional balsamic is made only in small batches to keep the character intact and can cost anywhere from $50-200 or more for a small bottle. It is only available online and at specialty stores.

It sometimes has the DOP or PDO label (Protected Designation of Origin).

In that case, the DOP or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) label, produced within the regions of Modena, or Reggio Emilia, conforms to the production regulations of the European Union. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI: Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or the balsamic vinegar of the Modena region of Italy is bought to be used for everyday consumption.

If the bottle of vinegar has an IGP or PGI label (Protected Geographic Indication), that means that it conforms to European Union (EU) production regulations.

The price of one bottle can range from $4-20, depending on where you buy it.

Balsamic vinegar (with no mention of Modena on the label) is also for everyday use but is differentiated from the one above by production location since it is not balsamic vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia. If the bottle does not have a PGI label, it is still possible that it comes from Italy with the label 'Balsamic Condiment'.

This vinegar may be imitation (vinegar with added sweeteners), but alternatively may also be good quality.

How is flavored balsamic vinegar made?

The reputation of traditional balsamic vinegar has created a very fortuitous mini-industry of derivative products. The products mentioned below are not substitutes for traditional balsamic vinegar and are simply derivatives of a more exquisite flavor.

Flavored balsamic is perfect for you if you feel like the rich flavor of traditional balsamic vinegar is too deep for you, or if you've grown tired of it, there are many alternatives you can shift to. You can choose to buy or infuse your own balsamic vinegar flavor additives such as lemon, herbs, vanilla, fruit, and berries.

Saba is viewed as the ancestor of balsamic vinegar. It is a sugary syrup of slow-cooked, unfermented, concentrated grape must.

The prepared sugar syrup spends a few months maturing in a barrel. And makes a delicious alternative to traditional balsamic vinegar while cooking different recipes.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how balsamic vinegar is made then why not take a look at why people believe in astrology or your furry paw friend facts: when do puppies open their eyes?

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

Rajnandini Roychoudhury picture

Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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