Just got back from a wedding in Chile where my brother asked me “why do prices of balsamic vinegar vary so widely?” Needless to say, we had gifted him a bottle of our own IGP-certified balsamic vinegar of Modena, but he doesn’t use balsamic vinegar that often and was surprised that ours was quite a bit more expensive than supermarket brands. I attempted to explain the differences in pricing, but soon decided that there is no simple explanation.
Much of this information is available at About Balsamic Vinegar on our website, but I have decided to list a few reasons that many sellers tend to avoid discussing. In fact, many producers and bottlers fraudulently represent their product to the consumer.
Sadly, this lack of transparency and integrity gives all sellers a bad name as consumers no longer know who to trust. In fact, one of the “Best Sellers” on Amazon claims to be selling a “traditional balsamic vinegar.” This claim is clearly a lie since wine must (the sole ingredient of “traditional balsamic vinegar“) is diluted with wine vinegar and, perhaps, other additives. Found below are some key issues you might wish to consider when buying balsamic vinegar:
IGP Certified and DOP Balsamic Vinegar
While there are any number of commercially-branded “types” of balsamic vinegar, I only recommend purchasing IGP certified balsamic vinegar and/or DOP (or “PDO”) traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena. Found below are the distinctive seals that should be printed on the label or box.
|IGP Certification||DOP or PDO Certification|
Now, unless a bottle or a box of balsamic vinegar has one of these labels on it, I assume that there is no third-party oversight. This does not necessarily mean that the product is inferior, it simply means that there is no way of independently verifying the integrity of the product. DOP or PDO “traditional balsamic vinegar” consists 100% of aged wine must – no dilution by the addition of wine vinegar or other additives. Traditional balsamic vinegar has a minimum age of 12 years and generally sells for approximately $100 for a 100 ml bottle. If a label or box claims that it is “traditional balsamic vinegar” or “aceto balsamico tradicional” and sells for much less than $100, it is NOT AUTHENTIC.
What About IGP Certification?
IGP certification simply means that the product being certified comes from a designated region within Italy (in this case) to guarantee sourcing authenticity. IGP balsamic vinegar consists of a mix of aged wine must and wine vinegar. According to Italian consortium regulations, the “wine must” needs to have been aged for at least 60 days and then mixed with wine vinegar to obtain IGP certification. One can generally assume that the price of the IGP certified balsamic vinegar is determined by the percentage (and origin) of the wine vinegar added to the aged wine must. Specifically, you can easily have 10% wine must that has been barrel-aged for 60 days to which has been added 90% wine vinegar. In order to get the distinctive agro dolce flavor of balsamic vinegar, some unscrupulous producers may even add caramel or other additives.
As a rule of thumb, one can assume that if you are buying a 500 ml bottle of balsamic vinegar for $7.50 at the grocery store, it probably consists of more wine vinegar than wine must. Nevertheless, it doesn’t necessarily follow that more expensive balsamic vinegar is any better unless you know the producer. Reputable companies producing an authentic product use a high concentration of barrel-aged wine must (generally 4 years or more) and aged wine vinegar.
Balsamic Reductions and Vinaigrettes
Many people assume that you can buy an inexpensive balsamic vinegar and reduce it through the application of heat. In effect, you are trying to speed up the natural aging process which occurs through evaporation. Sadly, this produces an inferior product that has been altered through the application of heat. The same applies to vinaigrettes which have been diluted by the addition of other oils such as olive or vegetable oils.
Prices of Balsamic Vinegar – Summary
In short, the price of balsamic vinegar can vary significantly depending on the aging process and the mixture of the wine must and wine vinegar. Sadly, there are many inferior brands of uncertain origin that masquerade as “traditional balsamic vinegar.” Don’t be deceived by the hype. If you are looking for a quality IGP certified balsamic vinegar of Modena in a quality box, look no further than Gourmet Living’s balsamic vinegar of Modena.