Aged to Perfection: Balsamic Vinegar

Ingredient Spotlight

How would you describe balsamic vinegar to someone who's never had it? You could mention that it's made from pressed grapes like wine. You could describe how well its sweet-tart flavor pairs with summer tomatoes and fresh basil. But at the end of the day, you just have whisk it with some olive oil, toss it with some greens, and hand over a fork.

Balsamic vinegar starts life in much the same way as a fine wine, which begins to explain why its held in such reverence. Grapes are harvested and pressed to extract the juices. The juice is boiled and then transferred to wooden casks to age. As it ages, the vinegar slowly oxidizes under the influence of certain bacteria and takes on a more vinegar-like flavor.

A good amount of vinegar actually evaporates as it ages. The remaining vinegar becomes increasingly concentrated until we end up with the super-rich and syrupy balsamic that inspires such rave reviews. True balsamic is aged over a period of 12 or more years. Commercial versions might be aged for less time or contain flavoring additives to more closely mimic true balsamic. The more expensive balsamics are typically the longest-aged and most authentic.

But even the less expensive balsamic that most of us have in our cupboards can make a fantastic salad dressing or finishing touch to a dish. Give it a try in these dishes:

How to Make a Basic Balsamic VinegarRoasted Balsamic Vegetable Pasta with Mint & YogurtFettuccine with Balsamic Delicata Squash and Bitter GreensChicken Thighs with Balsamic VinegarHoney Ginger Balsamic Glazed Beets

What are your favorite ways to use balsamic vinegar?

Related: What's the Deal with White Balsamic Vinegar?

(Image: Daniel Taeger/Shutterstock)

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