With the exception of perhaps oil, few pantry staples come in as many varieties as vinegar. I regularly keep on hand no fewer than seven different vinegars: red wine, white wine, champagne, sherry, rice, apple cidar and balsamic.
Recently, while scanning through the ingredients list of a recipe I was making, I came across a vinegar I was unfamiliar with - White balsamic vinegar. "Oh great," I thought to myself. "Am I really going to have to go out and get another bottle of vinegar to add to the collection?" I wondered how different white balsamic vinegar could be from regular, so I did a little research.
Vinters in Modena, Italy have been making balsamic vinegar for nearly 1000 years and the process is similar to that of making wine. Sweet, white Trebbiano grape pressings (called “must”) are simmered for hours and hours until they have become thick and caramelized. The resulting syrup is then aged in a succession of barrels made from different kinds of wood that give the vinegar character. Authentic balsamic vinegar is aged no less than 12 years. Cheaper balsamic vinegars are aged for a shorter amount of time in larger barrels and are typically mixed with wine vinegar and have coloring added.
White balsamic vinegar, however, blends white grape must with white wine vinegar and is cooked at a low temperature to avoid any darkening. Some manufacturers age the vinegar in oak barrels, while other use stainless steel.
The flavors of the two are very similar, although the dark balsamic is slightly sweeter and tends to be a little more syrupy. The white has more of a clean aftertaste. The main reason one would use white balsamic, rather than regular, is mostly aesthetic. It can be used with lighter colored foods, dressings, or sauces without any discoloring. If that sort of thing matters to you.