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Balsamic Vinegar - History, Nutrition, Cooking

Acetaia Ferretti-Corradini - Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia

Balsamic vinegar is one of the staple foods of the Italian cuisine. It is the cooked must of varieties of grapes specific to Modena or Reggio Emilia regions in Italy. The cooked must is aged for at least 12 years in specially designed wooden barrels. 

We will take you on a journey to discover the history of the balsamic vinegar, how it is made, what are some of the nutrition facts and its health benefit, how to cook it and where to find it.

A Short History of the Balsamic Vinegar

Specialists are situating the origins of the vinegar around the 3,000 BC in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Palestine. From there it moved to Greece and later to the Roman Empire.

During the Roman empire, the acetabulum (the recipient containing the vinegar) was always present on the dinner tables.

Acetaia Ferretti Corradini - Balsamic vinegar tasting notes and food pairing advice

As for the origins of the balsamic vinegar, these are to be situated around 1,000 BC in Egypt, with one fresco depicting cooking the raisin must.

Later, during the 11th century, we can find the first written testimony related to balsamic vinegar in the papers written by a benedictine friar. From the 14th century, the balsamic vinegar was part of the aristocratic cuisine. As such, when in 1598 Modena became part of the Duchy of Este, the historical documents related to the balsamic vinegar become more detailed.

So precious was this dark liquid considered, that in 1792, as a gift for the coronation of archduke Francis II of Austria, the Duke of Este sent a small vial of balsamic vinegar.

The Production Process

The production process of the balsamic vinegar was first described in a letter from the 19th century written by one of the most famous balsamic vinegar producers. The same production process is used today and is part of the standards written by the Balsamic Vinegar Consortium.

There are two types of PDO traditional balsamic vinegars (aceto balsamico tradizionale DOP): the one from Modena, the most famous, and the one from Reggio Emilia, not as known but with an equally good quality.

To obtain the traditional balsamic vinegar PDO there is only one ingredient: the must of grapes from the region. The must is cooked for at least 30min to no less than 80°C. After that it is left to age for at least 12 months.

It is also known as aged balsamic vinegar because it is left to ferment in specially designed wooden barrels for 12, 25 years or more. The result is a dense, sweet, low acidity brown liquid that is much appreciated in the gastronomic cuisine.

The balsamic vinegar PGI (aceto balsamico di Modena IGP) contains three ingredients: grape must, a small percentage of wine vinegar, and around 12% caramel.

We will be referring to the traditional balsamic vinegar PDO (aceto balsamico tradizionale DOP) in what follows.

Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

In terms of nutritional content, 100 g of balsamic vinegar contains:

  • 77 g of water;
  • 43 g of carbohydrates;
  • About 1.5 g of protein;
  • mineral salts: Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus,
  • traces of zinc, iron, manganese and copper.

Due to its high content of polyphenols, the aged balsamic vinegar GDP has a series of health benefits and is consider to prevent aging, boost the immune system and has a positive impact on digestion.

It’s also considered to give greater sense of satiety and can be used in hypocaloric diets. Balsamic vinegar can also be used in ketogenic diets.

In small quantities it is considered healthy, however, it’s better to ask medical advice regarding its use during pregnancy, if you suffer from diabetes or low blood pressure. 

It is worth noting that both the traditional balsamic vinegar and the balsamic vinegar of Modena are gluten free. 

Cooking with Balsamic Vinegar

The best way to enjoy the aged balsamic vinegar is to drizzle it over risottos, escalopes, roast and pan-fried meat, and roasted vegetables.

It goes well as salad dressing, with fish and meat carpaccios, parmesan, strawberries, icecream, and chocolate or egg deserts.

The younger 12 year old balsamic vinegar  can be used for cooking, while the 25 year old one is only used as a condiment. 

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