Authentic Barrel Aged
Italian Balsamic Vinegar
& What Isnt...
In the industry, there are a handful of vendors marketing their “barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars” as “authentic.” Part of our business is to share information so we can all make informed purchasing decisions for quality olive oils and balsamics. At the end of the day, the decision is yours but we hope the information below helps to shed some light on the issues surrounding fake and authentic barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars.
Fancy bottles, high prices, marketing terms such as “barrel aged in Modena, Italy”, 25 Stars, 4 Leafs, PGI/IGP, mean absolutely nothing! True barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars must be barrel aged for at least 12 years according to Italian standard and must NOT contain additives such as corn syrup, guar gum, cornflour, molasses, or sodium.
Shop with confidence at Valley Olive & Leaf Co., our barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars are ALL aged to the Italian standard of at least 12 years or longer. Our barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars do NOT contain additives such as corn syrup, molasses, gum guar, cornflour or added sodium! The sweetness and thickness come from the traditional barrel aging process of at least 12 years. ALL flavor infused barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars are infused with organic all-natural flavors.
More to know...
Balsamic Vinegar Aging Process
Authentic barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars must be
aged to the minimum of 12 years in wood casks (barrels).
If the “balsamic” is aged under 12 years then according to Italian standards it can NOT be labeled or sold as balsamic vinegar in Italy. Italy produces the World’s supply of “balsamic vinegar” but it is estimated that as high as 90% of the balsamic production can not be sold as “balsamic vinegar” in Italy because of the lack of aging. If the bottle label does not contain the age of the balsamic then in most cases it’s just red wine vinegar with some additive to make it sweet and thick. Italians are very proud of their balsamic productions so rest assured if it is aged properly that information will be provided. If it isn't, then beware!!
Wood Barrel Age VS Balsamic Age
The age of a balsamic is exactly that; how long the cooked grape Must has been aged in wood casks. Please do not confuse this with the sleight-of-hand marketing terms referring to the age of the wood barrels. Yes, the label may say “Barrel Aged” but the real question is how long? It has recently been seen that, product descriptions stating that the “balsamic” was aged in 25, 50, 100 year-old wood barrels. This does NOT mean the balsamic is 25, 50, 100 years of age. Unless you are interested in consuming the wood, the age of the barrel is meaningless. All true barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars are aged in a battery of conditioned wood casks. Viscosity of 12 year-aged balsamic should be very similar to water. Viscosity of 18 year-aged balsamic should be similar to olive oil (lightly coat the sides of a cup), but not thick like Hershey’s chocolate syrup. For example, one can age grape must in 1000 year-old wood barrels for 2 days, but the end result is still a 2 day-old red wine vinegar,
and NOT a 1000 year-old balsamic vinegar.
Additives-Sweetening & Thickening Agents, Sodium & Sulfates
Be aware, very aware, that many of the exported “balsamics” from Italy typically have a higher sugar content (see example section at bottom of page). The reason for this, is that they are typically spiked with corn syrup, molasses, guar gum, caramel color or cornflour. These additives are a quick bypass to the aging process and give these young vinegars sweetness, color, and thickness. Barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars should be tart, sweet, and thick through the aging process, and NOT by the addition of additives. Aging over 12+ years allows the natural sugars from the grapes to condense and the balsamic to thicken through evaporation. Many of these so-called “balsamics” also contain added sodium and sulfates. Authentic barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars should NOT contain sodium or added sulfates above and beyond the naturally occurring sulfates found in the grapes.
Authentic barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars are acidic by nature. During the aging process the grape Must is introduced to the Mother (acetobacter culture) which sends the cooked grape Must down the acetic acid fermentation route rather than the alcoholic fermentation route (wine). 12 year-aged balsamic should inherently have an acidity of ~6.0%, while the acidity of an 18 year-aged balsamic should be ~4.0%. Please keep in mind that the impostor products have a bypass to obtain these acidity levels by adjusting the acidity of red wine vinegar to 4-6% through the
addition of the additives as mentioned in the section above.
Balsamic Star Ratings
A few stores have been seen using this nomenclature, which was created by Colavita a few years back, to describe the different ages of their “balsamic vinegars.” The most important bit of information to know when reading this section is that true barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars must be aged to the Italian standard of at least 12 years before they can legitimately be referred to as a balsamic vinegar.
Colavita Star Rating: There are three “Star” levels, 4, 6, and 25. Each Star level must contain a percentage of 10 year-old “Balsamic” with 4 Stars containing the least amount of 10 year-old balsamic and 25 Stars containing the highest percentage of 10 year-old “Balsamic.” The problem here is that, as mentioned above, authentic barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegar must be aged at least 12 years so even at 25 Stars, it still could not be labeled, or sold as a Balsamic Vinegar in Italy. Many believe the Balsamic Star System is nothing more than a marketing tool used to confuse the customer into thinking they just purchased a 4, 6, or 25 year-old bottle of balsamic vinegar.
Balsamic Grape Leaf Rating
Another smoke and mirrors balsamic rating system was created in 2001. The Grape Leaf Rating
has nothing to do with the age of the balsamic, but rather describes the recommended
uses for each balsamic (ie: salads, meats, fish….). Misleading!
Balsamic "Red" & "White" Tag System
Another system used to refer to the age of the “balsamic.”
“Red” tag implies the “balsamic” was aged up to 3 years and
“White” tag, aged over 3 years.
Bottom line, neither have been aged to the Italian standard of at least 12 years.
PGI & IGP Indicators
Protected Geographical Indicator refers to two regions in Italy... Modena and Reggio Emilia.
Valley Olive & Leaf Co.’s barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars ARE produced in Modena, Italy.
Italian Consortium Balsamics
The creme of the crop, but these gems come at a high cost, about $150-$275/100ml!
Produced in the traditional Italian process by aging cooked grape Must in wood casks for at least 12 years. After 12 years of barrel aging these balsamic vinegars are then presented to an Italian consortium to be certified. Certification is not easy to obtain!
Red label (not the red label as referred to above) = 12 years,
Silver label = 18 years, Gold label (Extra Vecchio) = 25 years+.
Valley Olive & Leaf Co.’s barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars follow the same path but are not presented to the Italian Consortium and are therefore an affordable alternative.
Balsamic "Reductions & Glazes"
The vast majority of “balsamic glazes” sold in stores, are nothing more than
red wine vinegar and corn syrup, gum guar, molasses, or cornflour.
True balsamic glazes are created by reducing barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegars over heat.
This is the ONLY way to maintain the flavor profile of an authentic aged Italian balsamic.
The balsamic reduction can then be used as a “glaze.”
Another "Black hole" in the World of Balsamic Vinegar is synthetic, chemical, or additive "flavorings." This subject is such a maze, but the most important point to make when navigating this field is that "flavoring" is typically un naturally flavor enhanced, and is not a high quality product. You want an all natural fruit, herb, or botanically flavor "infused" or "fused" olive oil or balsamic vinegar ONLY.
Our flavor-infused balsamic vinegars use our 12+ year, barrel aged, Italian balsamic vinegars, and all flavors are organic and do NOT contain crystallized cane sugar or any artificial flavoring.
Valley Olive & Leaf Co.'s Aged Italian Balsamic Vinegars:
Barrel aged to the Italian standard of at least 12 years, and some up to 18 years.
Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 10, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 0mg, Total Carbs = 0g, Sugars = 3g, Protein = 0g. Acidity 4.0-6.0% (depending on age).
Ingredients: cooked grape Must, Mother (required to commence acetic acid fermentation), naturally occurring sulfates from grapes.
Cost $5.00-20.00 for 60mL-375mLs.
(Weight Watchers Points = 0 for the 1st tablespoon.)
Valley Olive & Leaf Co.'s-Fused & Infused Balsamic Vinegars:
Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 10, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 0mg, Total Carbs = 3g, Sugars = 3g, Protein = 0g. Acidity 4.0%.
Ingredients: 18 year barrel aged Italian balsamic vinegar, all-natural fruit, herbs, or botanicals.
Cost $5.00-20.00 for 60mL-375mLs.
Store bought "Balsamic Vinegars":
EXAMPLE #1: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (GB):
Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 45, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 5mg, Total Carbs = 11g, Sugars = 8g, Protein = 0g. Acidity 4.5%. Ingredients: Balsamic Vinegar. Age: N/A. Cost $18 for 6.0oz.
EXAMPLE #2: Raspberry Balsamic (GB): Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 49, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 0mg, Total Carbs = 14g, Sugars = 9g, Protein = 0g. Acidity 4.5%. Ingredients: Raspberry juice concentrate, organic crystallized cane sugar. Age: N/A. Cost $18 for 6.0oz.
EXAMPLE #3: Traditional Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar (PM): Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 45, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 5mg, Total Carbs = 11g, Sugars = 8g, Protein = 0g. Acidity 5.0%. Ingredients: Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Italy (5% acidity). Age: N/A. Cost $12 for 6.0oz.
EXAMPLE #4: Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar (PM): Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 45, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 5mg, Total Carbs = 11g, Sugars = 8g, Protein = 0g. Acidity 5.0%. Ingredients: Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Italy (5% acidity), Natural Chocolate Flavor. Age: N/A. Cost $12 for 6.0oz.
EXAMPLE #5: 25 Star Dark Balsamic Vinegar (OG): See definition of Balsamic Star system above. Serving size 1Tbs, Calories per serving = 45, Fat Calories = 0, Total Fat = 0g, Sodium = 5mg, Total Carbs = 11g, Sugars = 11g, Protein = 0g. Acidity: N/A. Ingredients: N/A. Age: N/A. Cost $22.50 for 12.7oz.
Some Final Thoughts...
At the end of the day it’s all about being educated as a consumer. The food industry is one of the least regulated industries with big-brand companies having the controlling hand. Simply put, loose importation rules and labeling requirements, combined with sleight-of-hand marketing (ie: terminology, fancy bottles, high prices), all allow for imposter products to flood our markets and invade our homes. At Valley Olive & Leaf Co., our business is based on pride in knowing the authenticity of our products and sharing that quality with others! We sincerely hope that you will enjoy them as muc as we do! Come visit us today and experience quality and taste that we have become so passionate about!
*Information credited to EVOO Marketplace, CO & our trusted supplier, Veronica Foods, CA