Balsamic vinegar — We drizzle this dark-brown syrupy condiment with a smooth sweet-sour flavor over meats, on our salads and spike wonderfully fragrant sauces with it. All balsamic vinegars are, however, not created equal. With more products and brands than ever before, shopping for the real balsamic flavor can make you scratch your head. To be sure you’re getting true Italian balsamic in your grocery store, check the label for these 3 things:
The proper designation: Look for this full labeling: “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena”. This mention ensures the vinegar has been produced according to strictly Italian rules, including aging the vinegar in wood barrels for at least 2 months (some of the most expensive balsamics like the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale are aged for 18 and even 25 years!) and making sure it has the required 6 percent acidity.
The right ingredients: The bottle label should list grape must which is the cooked skins and juice of grapes and wine vinegar. The original balsamic vinegar is in fact a product made from cooking and reducing white Trebbiano grape juice. Occasionally there can be caramel color added. Some producers use it and it’s allowed by Italian guidelines for commercial grade vinegar. The sole mention “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” on the ingredients list, means that you’re getting just those 2 or 3 ingredients. Lot of lower quality balsamic brands, which in fact have little to do with balsamic vinegar at all, rely heavily on caramel for both color and flavoring to mislead the unaware consumer.
The correct location: The Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) seal certify that the vinegar was produced, at least in part, in Modena et Reggio Emilia regions in Italia. Balsamic vinegar can be produced anywhere, but the authentic condiment comes from this small Italian city.