Balsamic vinegar’s tangy and sweet properties make it an adaptable ingredient, but it is also a nutritional powerhouse. Vinegar was first discovered 10,000 years ago by accident. Wine that had fermented too long in casks produced an acidic, flavorful product that was also used for it's medicinal qualities. What makes the balsamic variety unique is that the vinegar is blended with grapes, creating a product good tasting and good for you.
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Balsamic Vinegar Varieties
All vinegar production begins with the fermentation of grapes. The addition of "must," the cooked portion of grapes, to vinegar gives the balsamic blend its color and flavor. There are two basic types of balsamic vinegar: traditional and domestic.
Traditional balsamic vinegars come from two specific regions in Italy: Reggio and Modena. Traditional balsamic vinegar production involves lengthy and complex processes. Some traditional vinegars age for decades creating a sweet and rich flavor, but these vinegars are limited in quantity and are expensive. Domestic balsamic vinegars are produced in the United States and are more widely available at a lower cost.
Balsamic's Basic Nutrients
Balsamic vinegar is a complementary condiment for many foods, lending big flavors but few calories. A tablespoon of balsamic vinegar contains 14 calories and zero grams of fat and protein. Each tablespoon has approximately 2 grams of carbohydrates and sugar. The nutritional composition of balsamic vinegar makes it a desired alternative to high-fat and high-calorie condiments and it is a nutritious addition to any healthy eating plan.
Added Health Benefits
The grapes used to make balsamic vinegar possess several nutritional advantages. Balsamic vinegar contains electrolytes including calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
The most significant nutritional bonus of balsamic vinegar is the phyotonutrient, flavonoids, contained in the grapes. Flavonoids are antioxidants which help protect heart and brain health and serve to rid the body of cell-damaging free radicals. Consuming balsamic vinegar has also been correlated with improved blood sugar control. Studies conducted on rats have demonstrated an association of vinegar intake with the lowering of cholesterol and blood pressure.
Cooking With Balsamic
Salad dressing may top the list of most common uses of balsamic vinegar. However, balsamic vinegar’s slightly acidic fruit flavor lends itself well to savory marinades and sauces. Sprinkle balsamic on fresh fruits such as strawberries and peaches for a touch of tartness. Balsamic will reduce to a syrup-like texture when heated in a pan and could add a suprising element to a sweet dish.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- United States Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Vinegar, Balsamic
- The Vinegar Institute: Today's Vinegar
- International Food and Information Council Federation: Functional Foods, Functional Food Facts Sheet -- Antioxidants
- Medscape General Medicine: Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect
- Food and Drug Administration:Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide: Appendix A: Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims