Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.
What Is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar is a dark, thick vinegar made from grape juice with a distinctive flavor. In recipes, it adds a touch of tang along with a hint of sweetness. You can also use it to make a marinade for meat, deglaze a pan, or make a sauce.
Is Balsamic Vinegar a Fermented Food?
Yes, it is a fermented food since it undergoes a slow aging process to maximize its flavor.
Traditionally, balsamic vinegar was made in the Modena region of Italy. Vinegar makers crushed the grapes and fermented the juice for a period of time before. allowing it to age in wooden barrels. The longer the liquid ages, the more complex the flavor and the more expensive it becomes.
Caveat Regarding Commercially Made Products
However, there is a big caveat when it comes to the bottled balsamic vinegar you buy at the grocery store because it turns out they lack some of the flavor and health benefits of traditional balsamic vinegar. Manufacturers who mass-produce balsamic vinegar add emulsifiers, additives, and colorings to the product—so you’re not always getting pure balsamic vinegar when you buy a bottle at the grocery store.
Fermented Foods Provide Probiotics
One reason people consume fermented foods is for their probiotic content. It's no secret that probiotics have potential health benefits. Probiotics are live microorganisms that have benefits to the host. They help keep our guts healthy and our immune systems strong.
Some research shows that certain probiotics could help to prevent certain health issues, although more research is needed. Since balsamic vinegar is a fermented food, does it contain probiotics? Traditionally made balsamic vinegar contains these live organisms that foster gut health. But it’s less clear how many probiotics commercial balsamic vinegar you buy on store shelves has.
Balsamic Vinegar Contains Acetic Acid
The probiotics in balsamic vinegar come from acetic acid in vinegar. Therefore, it’s likely that all balsamic vinegar contains some probiotics since acetic acid is an ingredient in vinegar. There’s some evidence that acetic acid in this type of vinegar also helps people feel fuller and may help with blood sugar control too.
One study found that acetic acid in balsamic vinegar affects how beta-cells, cells that produce insulin, function in a way that could lower the risk of diabetes. It’s an area that needs more research.
How to Enjoy Balsamic Vinegar
This vinegar has a sweet and sour taste that is perfect for dressing salads and cooked dishes. This vinegar is also used in many sauces and marinades. But there are many ways you can use this flavor-enhancing fermented liquid. Here are some ideas:
- Add it to a fruit salad for a bit of sweetness and acidity.
- Use it in a vinaigrette for a salad or grain bowl.
- Make a balsamic reduction to drizzle over grilled meats or vegetables.
- Add it to a batch of slow cooker recipes for added flavor.
- Use it as a marinade for chicken or fish.
- Add it to a salad dressing for a unique flavor
- Use it as a marinade for meats or vegetables
- Add it to a homemade vinaigrette
You can also buy flavored balsamic vinegar in some stores, particularly dedicated olive oil and vinegar shops. Some of the many flavoring options might include garlic or even espresso.
Another option to enjoy is white balsamic vinegar, which is made from white grapes and has a lighter, sweeter flavor than the traditional variety. It is often used in sauces or as a marinade for chicken or fish.
Any respectable chef will tell you that a good balsamic vinegar is key to a well-stocked pantry. Now you know it’s a fermented food and one you can use on salads, recipes, and other applications. However, the commercially produced bottles you buy at the grocery store contain varying quantities of probiotics, and some may contain none. Read the ingredients carefully to see what additives are in the vinegar too.
- "Balsamic Vinegar: Is It Good For You, Health Benefits, and More." 11 Oct. 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/balsamic-vinegar-health-benefits.
- Seok H, Lee JY, Park EM, Park SE, Lee JH, Lim S, Lee BW, Kang ES, Lee HC, Cha BS. Balsamic Vinegar Improves High Fat-Induced Beta Cell Dysfunction via Beta Cell ABCA1. Diabetes Metab J. 2012 Aug;36(4):275-9. doi: 10.4093/dmj.2012.36.4.275. Epub 2012 Aug 20. PMID: 22950058; PMCID: PMC3428415.
- Pinu FR, de Carvalho-Silva S, Trovatti Uetanabaro AP, Villas-Boas SG. Vinegar Metabolomics: An Explorative Study of Commercial Balsamic Vinegars Using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry. Metabolites. 2016 Jul 23;6(3):22. doi: 10.3390/metabo6030022. PMID: 27455339; PMCID: PMC5041121.
- Johnston CS, Gaas CA. Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect. MedGenMed. 2006 May 30;8(2):61. PMID: 16926800; PMCID: PMC1785201.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.