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What is Balsamic Vinegar?

January 11, 2018

Balsamic vinegar ages in wooden barrels

Originating from Italy, Balsamic Vinegar is an aromatic, thick, dark, syrup-like, aged condiment.  Unlike the sharp taste of other types of vinegar, balsamic has a rich, sweet flavor. You need to taste it to believe it!

Balsamic vinegar, though popularly referred to as wine vinegar, is not made from wine. Instead, balsamic vinegar is prepared by hindering the fermentation process of grape pressings.  The best balsamic vinegar is prepared in the hills of Modena, Italy, where ripe grapes are pressed and then caramelized over an open flame.  These grape pressings, grape must, are cooked until the water content reduces to approximately fifty percent and the grapes have turned a rich, dark color.  The reduced must is then combined with older balsamic in wooden barrels, which speed the fermentation process, resulting in increased acidity. 

Balsamic vinegar obtains its flavor from the wooden barrels used in the aging process.   Openings in the barrel allow controlled oxidation and evaporation of the product over time.   Each year, the vinegar is combined with newer grape must and transferred into different wooden barrels.   Traditional methods require at least three types of wood be used in the aging process, which may include oak, chestnut, ash, mulberry and juniper.   Balsamic vinegar which is aged for three to five years is referred to as young, those aged for six to twelve years is called middle aged, and balsamics which are aged for twelve years or more are called Aged or OLD.  The longer the aging process, the finer and richer the quality of the balsamic.  Consumers should be aware that commercially produced balsamic is oftentimes produced in a few hours or days and contain added sugars, colors, and flavors.   True balsamic vinegar contain nothing but grape must, water, and time.  Be alert while picking up a bottle of balsamic vinegar!

Italians have been relishing balsamic vinegar for centuries, but Americans have only recently been introduced to this versatile condiment.  Over the past two decades, the popularity of sweet balsamic has surged and Americans have begun using it in various sauces, marinades, salad dressings, dips, desserts, etc. Not only are Americans enjoying the remarkable taste of this dark, syrup-like condiment, but balsamic vinegar health benefits also play a major role in adding points to the popularity chart. 


Balsamic vinegar retains most of the nutrients present in the parent grapes and comprises nutrients like iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium in adequate amounts. 
Antioxidant Properties
Antioxidants from balsamic vinegar destroy these free radicals, preventing the destruction of cell membranes.   Balsamics can be viewed as a Superfood, slowing down the aging process.
Fights Cancer
The grapes from which balsamic vinegar is formed are known to contain a bioflavonoid called quercetin, which has antioxidant properties. Along with vitamin C, this antioxidant strengthens the immune system to fight cancer and other infectious diseases and inflammations. A strong immune system means less susceptibility to illnesses. Balsamic vinegar also contains polyphenols which are anti-cancer agents.
Reduces Risk of Heart Attacks
Balsamic vinegar is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, thus, does not have any negative effects on the heart. When high-cholesterol dressings are substituted with balsamic vinegar, heart health is automatically seen to improve, because the unwanted fat is not getting deposited in the blood vessels. Additionally, since balsamic vinegar is low in sodium, it enhances heart health and reduces high blood pressure. Thus, balsamic vinegar helps reduce the risk of strokes and other heart related ailments.
Natural Pain Reliever
In ancient times, healers used balsamic vinegar to relieve pain and to treat wounds and infections. Some people report relief from migraines and headaches, however the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties may actually be a migraine trigger for some.    
Assists Digestion
The polyphenols in balsamic vinegar stimulate the activity of pepsin enzyme in the body. Pepsin is a digestive enzyme, which helps break proteins into smaller units (amino acids). These polyphenols also assist in the absorption of amino acids in the intestines, promoting cell building, repair and other body maintenance work.   Thus, balsamic vinegar aids the digestion process.
Weight Control
Balsamic vinegar makes great tasting salad dressings, thus, making it a viable substitute for mayonnaise or other fatty salad dressings. With no fats content, the calories (One teaspoon = to 5 calories) come mainly from the sugar content in the grapes.   Additionally, the acetic acid content in the vinegar slows down the transition of food from the stomach to the intestine, making a person feel satiated for longer.  
Controls Diabetes
Research reveals that consumption of at least 3 to 4 tablespoons of vinegar a day enhances insulin sensitivity. The greater the insulin sensitivity, the better the diabetes control. However, the exact details about how vinegar helps control sugar levels is still a mystery.  Additional research studies also indicate that the high sugar content in balsamic vinegar may increase blood glucose.   It is recommended that people with diabetes keep track of their blood glucose reaction to balsamic vinegar.     Also, be aware of commercially available balsamic vinegar, which mostly is nothing but grape juice mixed with strong vinegar and sugar.
Besides these health benefits, balsamic vinegar also reduces the frequency of headache inceptions, strengthens bones (calcium absorption), energizes the body, slows down aging process and prevents anemia.   

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