The best balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is one of the more versatile ingredients you can have in your pantry. While it has an acidic quality like other vinegars, there's also a slight sweetness to it, which means you can use it in even more recipes. Balsamic vinegar can work well in savory dishes like salad dressings, marinades, sauces, soups, and stews, but also in plenty of sweet recipes. In particular, it's delicious when paired with fresh fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and peaches, because it helps bring out their natural sweetness.
There can be a lot of variation in the quality of balsamic vinegars, though, so if you don't choose the right one, you can wind up with a bland-tasting vinegar instead of one with the rich, complex flavor that you're after.
Keep reading our handy buying guide to learn all the tips you need to find the best balsamic vinegar for your kitchen. We've also included some specific product recommendations, including our top choice from The Balsamic Guy, which is made in Modena, Italy, aged for 25 years, and extremely flavorful.
Considerations when choosing balsamic vinegars
When you're shopping for balsamic vinegar, you can choose from the following three types:
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made with grapes from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy, which are then fermented and aged for at least 12 years. The vinegar has a deep, rich brown color and thick consistency that's similar to syrup. Traditional balsamic vinegar has a less acidic flavor than most vinegars and is instead sweet and slightly tart. Due to its complex flavor, it shouldn't be used for cooking -- instead, it should be drizzled over foods as a finishing touch.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is labeled with "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" and a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) seal, so you know it's genuine.
Condiment balsamic vinegar doesn't offer quite as complex a flavor as traditional balsamic vinegar, but it's still very tasty. It doesn't have to follow the same methods used for traditional balsamic vinegar, so it may be aged for less than 12 years and isn't necessarily made in Modena or Reggio Emilia. Condiment balsamic vinegar may have an "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" label, but it won't feature the DOP seal. Instead, look for an IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) stamp.
Condiment balsamic vinegar is thick and sweet like traditional balsamic vinegar, so it should be used for drizzling rather than cooking too.
Salad balsamic vinegar is typically the lowest grade of balsamic vinegar you can buy. It isn't necessarily made with grapes from Modena, but it's usually processed there. Salad balsamic vinegar isn't fermented and may be aged for as little as two months. As a result, it isn't as flavorful, which is why it's combined with wine vinegar.
Salad balsamic doesn't offer as complex a flavor as traditional or condiment balsamic, so it's best used for cooking rather than drizzling over dishes.
The age of a balsamic vinegar is often the best way to determine how rich and complex its flavor will be. Traditional balsamic vinegar is typically aged for 12 to 25 years, but you can find some incredibly expensive varieties that are aged for as long as 100 years. Condiment balsamics are generally aged for five to 10 years, which gives them a slightly less complex flavor. Salad balsamic vinegars are usually only aged for a few months, so they don't have anywhere near the richness and complexity of traditional or salad balsamics.
While balsamic vinegar has a taste all its own, some varieties are infused with other ingredients to give them a different flavor. Flavored balsamics are often used to make salad dressings or for dipping bread. You can find balsamic flavored with spices and herbs like chili and garlic or fruits like raspberry and pomegranate.
Balsamic vinegar is known for its rich, dark color, but there are actually white balsamics too. Some foodies don't consider a white balsamic to be a true balsamic vinegar, but it does have a slightly sweet, tart flavor that's lighter than other balsamics.
Balsamic vinegar usually costs between less than $1 and $300 per ounce. You can expect to pay between 50 cents and $2 per ounce for salad balsamic vinegar, $5 and $50 per ounce for condiment balsamics, and $50 and $300 for traditional balsamics.
Q. Does balsamic vinegar have any health benefits?
A. It does contain quite a few antioxidants, which can help reduce your risk of cancer. Studies have also shown a link between balsamic vinegar and reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Q. Do I have to keep balsamic vinegar in the fridge?
A. No, traditional and condiment balsamics can be stored at room temperature. If you purchase a lower quality balsamic with additives and thickeners, though, it may need to be refrigerated. Always check the label.
Balsamic vinegars we recommend
Best of the best: The Balsamic Guy Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Our take: A DOP-certified traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, this is one of the very best balsamics we considered.
What we like: Aged for 25 years to develop a rich, complex flavor. Its thickness makes it particularly popular with buyers. Only requires a few drops to provide intense flavor to any dish. Comes with a 100% money back guarantee.
What we dislike: Is one of the pricier balsamics on the market.
Best bang for your buck: Mantova Organic Flavored Balsamic Condiments
Our take: A set of four flavored balsamics that won't break the bank and are an ideal gift for any foodie.
What we like: Organically made balsamics that come from Italy. Includes pear, fig, raspberry, and pomegranate-flavored vinegars. Can be used in salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. Company has been making flavored vinegars for over 30 years.
What we dislike: Has a thinner consistency than some users prefer.
Choice 3: Ellora Farms Pure Balsamic Vinegar
Our take: Its spray bottle dispenser makes this vinegar perfect for salad dressings and other light applications.
What we like: Includes two bottles of vinegar at an affordable price point. Spray bottle allows you to easily control how much vinegar is applied. Buyers appreciate its excellent flavor.
What we dislike: Bottles don't contain much vinegar.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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