Now widely available at your neighbourhood grocery store, balsamic vinegar is a sweet-and-sour brown vinegar that hails from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. A few years ago, you could only find this nectar at trendy restaurants, in gourmet food magazines and on shelves at specialty shops.
True balsamic comes from either Modena or Reggio Emilia, Italy. If not labeled, it’s an imitation.
Swish the vinegar around in the bottle. A good balsamic will coat the inside, like syrup.
Age: a blend of several years. The age on the bottle represents the oldest age in the blend. The older, the better.
“Tradizionale” is deemed so by a consortium of experts, typically bottled into a distinctive small bottle, bears an official seal of approval, and can cost hundreds of dollars. Its thick, dark purplish-brown colour and rich texture is a perfect balance of sweet and sour – delicious poured over ice cream!
Commercial/industrial balsamic costs far less and has a great deal of variety in flavor and quality.
- Imitation bottles make up about 2/3 of balsamic vinegar market and are typically red wine vinegar cut with water, with caramel, vanilla, herbs or sugar added.
We compared these products made in the balsamic-style from different parts of the world with true balsamics from Italy:
- Balsamic of Modena: $1.40 per 100 ml. A two-year-old, true commercial balsamic made in Modena.
- California Harvest: $4.00 per 100 ml. A pricier imitation from California.
- Aceto Balsamico di Modena: $24.99 per 100ml. Aged 10 years, a true commercial balsamic.
- Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale: $120 per 100 ml. A well-aged traditional balsamic.
Our tests and results include:
We whipped up some salads and used each product in a dressing.
All of our testers found the California Harvest too acidic.
The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale was the sweetest.
OUR TOP PICK
We felt that three of the four balsamics were quite tasty, with varied uses recommended.The younger true commercial balsamics are more suited to salads, sauces and stews. For those with a sweet tooth and a deep wallet, the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is a great ice cream topper. Use it sparingly though. It’s better as a condiment than a cooking ingredient.