Balsamic vinegar: a guide to understanding this ingredient

Balsamic vinegar

It’s not too hard today to go to the supermarket and find balsamic vinegar. It’s no longer a well-kept secret. Chefs around the world swear on it and it has made its way into the regular family kitchen.

But there are many still wondering about how balsamic vinegar is best used, as well as how to choose the best one. Be aware, there are many different types and prices can go up to 200 dollars for a bottle. How come? Well, some balsamic vinegars are the real deal, and others are simpler imitations. Choosing high-quality balsamic vinegar, ideally certified, will completely change your game in the kitchen.

Let’s talk about some different kinds of balsamic vinegar that can be found, as well as how to use this dark, glossy, intense ingredient to enhance your cooking.

Types of balsamic vinegar

There are different kinds of balsamic vinegar. Different in precedence and production, and therefore quite different in quality, flavor, and texture.

Balsamic vinegar has its origins in the region of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. The weather and geography play a role in the growth of the grapes used to make this vinegar. Also, the wood used to age the grape must resulting of cooking the grapes will affect the final product. The standards are regulated, so producers that follow certain steps, many similar to how balsamic vinegar was made hundreds of years ago, can obtain a certification, called D.O.P or I.G.P. that proves their balsamic vinegar is of the highest quality.

The Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Acetaia Leonardi is one of our favorites right out of Modena, where balsamic vinegar is so precious that it is commonly known as dark gold.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P

This is one of the highest quality balsamic vinegars on the market. Its production is heavily regulated, using methods that differ little from what families were doing a hundred years ago.

The whole production is under the microscope. Certain cauldrons can be used, times must be respected, only certain types of wood can be used for barrels, and the grape aging should be moved from one barrel to another at certain particular times.

The production process for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is as complex and detailed as making port, cherry, or other sweet wines. It is made with 100% cooked grape must acetified in wooden barrels. Only 2 ageing are admitted from the D.O.P. Consortium: minimum 12 years “Affinato” and minimum 25 years “Extravecchio”.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. is another type of balsamic vinegar that is produced following the highest standards and regulations in this region of Italy.

This balsamic vinegar is famous for its body and shine, and the excellent balance of flavors that will add the final touch to a variety of dishes and desserts.

The main difference between Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. and the above mentioned Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP is in the production process.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. is produced using local varieties of grapes, but wine vinegar and a portion of 10 years aged wine vinegar is added to the mixture, resulting in a balanced acidity, and speeding the ageing process. The result is a balsamic vinegar up to the highest standards.

Other condiments and imitations

Many times, we will find a bottle of balsamic vinegar, even labeled Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, but once we look closer, we realize it is not the real thing.

There are many options, none as good as the real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP or even the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P., but they may work well as marinades and salad dressing. Choosing depends on the type of flavor and texture you are looking for.


Choosing the right balsamic vinegar is important to make sure you are enhancing your dishes, bringing in the flavor and texture you need to make your cooking stand out. Remember that balsamic vinegar is an ingredient never to be cooked and is usually used sparsely towards the end of the preparation, but it can still be the main character of your dish.