What is balsamic vinegar?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is only made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy where it is closely overseen before earning a special certification after being aged from 12-25 years in large wooden barrels. It is made from pressed grape juice, skin, seeds, and stems of trebbiano grapes. The “real” stuff can sell for as much as $200 an ounce!
So what about the balsamic vinegar at your local neighborhood store? Why is it so much less expensive? What you see in stock locally is actually a balsamic-style vinegar and is often made with apple cider vinegar, sweeteners, and coloring to produce a similar product. Just because it isn’t authentic balsamic doesn’t mean these lower cost offerings can’t be high quality, it just means they are produced differently.
Does Balsamic Vinegar Go Bad?
No matter how you choose to use it, balsamic vinegar is considered one of the most versatile vinegars because it can be used for desserts, salads, bread, soups, or pastas. So, does balsamic vinegar go bad? Yes, but not very easily, especially if it is stored properly.
A bottle of the best quality balsamic vinegar is worth the investment so let’s be sure you know how to store it well so it can continue blessing your table for years.
How Long Does Balsamic Vinegar Last?
Think of a new bottle of balsamic vinegar like you would a bottle of wine. The shelf life of balsamic is pretty much infinite but I recommend using it within three to four years.
The vinegar will continue to be safe to consume past that time frame by at least a couple of years but it won’t be as delicious when it comes to the taste of it. It begins to lose its quality.
Even the imitation balsamic vinegars most of us are familiar with have similar long shelf life if stored properly. Their proper storage is just as important.
How to Store Balsamic Vinegar
If I were to guess, you probably have your vinegar in a cupboard right next to your stove and oven because it is a convenient place to keep it. But it is time to find that bottle a new home because high temperatures and balsamic vinegar don’t mix well.
For the best tasting balsamic vinegar that lasts a long time, be sure the bottle is sealed tightly after every use and stored it in a cool, dark, and dry place to protect it from its three natural enemies: heat, direct sunlight, and evaporation.
A quality bottle of balsamic will come from the manufacturer in a dark glass bottle to help keeping out the light. The ideal temperature to store that bottle of magic is between 59 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If your room temperature peaks outside that range a few times a year, not a big deal. It will still be a good quality. You just don’t want the vinegar exposed to high heats for a long period of time so find a cool place if that is a risk.
Some people like to store their vinegar in the basement with their wines.
Does The Expiration Date Matter?
The acidity of vinegar makes it naturally self-preserving, which is why many bottles of balsamic get better with age and is sold after it is aged. An expensive balsamic is aged for over 25 years before being bottled.
But what about that expiry date on the bottle? Should you just disregard it?
Balsamic vinegar won’t make you sick if it is a few years past the expiration date but once it is opened, it does start to deteriorate in quality and complex flavors. It’s a good idea to use it fairly close to its expiration date.
Storing your vinegar correctly will help keep your vinegar tasting its best because it will help reduce evaporation and possible contamination.
How Can I Tell When Balsamic Vinegar Goes Bad?
While the chance of it going bad is slim, balsamic vinegar can turn bad under certain conditions, especially if it has been left out too long without a cap. Here’s a quick checklist to see if yours has flipped to the dark place:
- Sniff the vinegar. It should smell a bit sweet and acidic. If you get any hint of rancidness, toss it.
- Look for mold. If you see some, it is no longer good.
- Look at the liquid. If the texture has changed and become thicker, it is no longer good. Don’t be afraid of a small amount of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. It is a compound called mother of vinegar and completely safe to eat. If that sediment bothers you, simply use a coffee filter to remove it when you pour the vinegar.
- Taste it. The flavor of good balsamic should be a bit sweet and a little acidic. Anything that tastes extremely harsh means it has spoiled.
Can I Refrigerate Balsamic Vinegar?
Technically, yes you can refrigerate balsamic vinegar but it is not the optimal storage environment. It can cause a change to the beautiful flavor over time and the added humidity of a refrigerator will cause water condensation inside the bottle, diluting the vinegar.
For peak quality, the best way to store your bottle is to keep it at room temperature in a cool, dark pantry, cabinet, basement, or wine cellar.
How To Use Balsamic Vinegar
Of course, most people think of pairing balsamic vinegar with a quality olive oil in a classic balsamic vinaigrette dressing but there are many other uses for it outside of a salad.
If you bring balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium heat and reduce the liquid in half, it becomes a thick syrup you can drizzle over ice cream for the best sundae ever, or I especially love balsamic syrup over fresh watermelon.
Others love balsamic vinegar for its health benefits and will swallow a couple teaspoons straight from the bottle every day. For some, the acetic acid and antioxidants found in the vinegar helps with digestion, blood sugar levels, and skin health. The good news is that you don’t have to eat it straight from the spoon to reap the benefits so try this Basil and Balsamic Chicken instead 😊
What Type of Vinegar to Buy
There are endless types of balsamic vinegar. From the standard grocery store options to those better quality offerings that come with a higher price tag. And I won’t even begin to sort through the balsamic vinegars with a million different flavorings added to them.
So, which one should you buy? First, I suggest doing a bit of investigation as to what available balsamic vinegar you have at your local grocery stores and remember, more expensive doesn’t always mean better.
First and foremost, pick the one you can afford. No need going for that $200 an ounce bottle!
Second, once you know the types of vinegar you have available, a simple Google search can give you some reviews on each brand. There’s only one way to find out which you like best, and that is to try them out.
Find a good quality balsamic vinegar that fits in your budget and enjoy. Here are my personal recommendations for standard grocery store vinegars:
- Bertolli Balsamic of Modena
- Colavita Balsamic of Modena
- Monari Federzoni Balsamic of Modena
- Giuseppe Giusti Gran Deposito Aceto Balsamico Di Modena Aged Artisan Italian Balsamic
If you haven’t been a regular user of balsamic vinegar, this amazing ingredient truly can transform your boring food into something memorable and crave-able. Since it can be a bit of an ingredient investment, be sure you take good care of the bottle you choose with these simple quick tips:
- Purchase bottles with dark glass to keep out the light.
- Store it in a cool, dry cupboard, pantry, or cellar.
- When you finish using it, be sure to replace the cap tightly to keep evaporation and contamination to a minimum.
- Keep an eye on the expiration date, but don’t let that be the only factor in determining if it is time to throw it out. Check the flavor and smell for any traces of it going rancid because most bottles will last a few years past the date.
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