After making a big splash in the culinary scene over the last few decades, balsamic vinegar has become a widely used and loved ingredient all around the world. From chefs using it in complex dishes to people taking it for the many holistic properties, balsamic vinegar is much more than your average kitchen ingredient. In this article, we’re going to first explore how balsamic vinegar is made before reviewing four of the most important health benefits this product offers.
What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Dating back over 1,000 years to Modena, Italy, where balsamic vinegar was originally used as a tonic and given to people importance as a token of honor, it has since become wildly popular around the world because of its distinctively bold flavor profiles and touch of sweetness. Though most often known for its use in salad dressings, balsamic vinegar can be used in everything from marinades to soups.
Classified as a wine vinegar (even though it’s not made from wine), balsamic vinegar is actually produced from sweet grape pressings before they’re given the chance to ferment into wine. After undergoing a transformative journey through the production process, balsamic vinegar becomes the darkly colored, concentrated syrup that we know it as today.
How is Balsamic Vinegar Made?
Similar to wine and other craft-intensive products, balsamic vinegar typically undergoes the same general production process. Where they differ is in the quality of the grapes used, types of aging barrels, and the amount of time aged. In fact, the amount of time aged is one of the biggest contributing factors to both taste and price. It’s for this reason that some traditional balsamic vinegars can go for as much as $250 an ounce, while others can be bought for as little as $5 for a 12-ounce bottle.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from Lambrusco or Trebbiano grape pressings which are sweet in flavor. Once the pressings are collected, they’re boiled down into a concentrated syrup and left to ferment naturally for a few weeks. Once the vinegar has fermented, it’s transferred into wooden barrels to begin the rest of the 12-year aging process. While this is the minimum amount of time for traditional balsamic vinegar, others may only be aged for a few months, or for as long as 100 years.
Throughout the aging process, the balsamic vinegar is transferred into barrels crafted from different wood so it can take on unique flavor profiles. Once the aging process is done and most of the liquid has evaporated, the final concentrated product undergoes inspection before being carefully bottled and prepared for enjoyment.
Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
1. It’s a Healthy Alternative for Diabetics
Because diabetics have to watch the kinds of food they eat due to differing glycemic responses, it can greatly limit the choices they have both at home and at restaurants. Balsamic vinegar is classified as a low glycemic food and has actually been shown to help prevent blood sugar spikes after eating. One study found that insulin-resistant test subjects experienced blood sugar plateaus for as long as five hours after consuming balsamic vinegar with their meal.
This is great for those with diabetes because it adds a lot of flavor and only comes in at around 14 calories per tablespoon and less than 3 grams of carbohydrates. With just one or two servings of balsamic vinegar, you can enhance meals by adding a little diversity and help your body’s blood sugar response stay balanced from meal to meal.
2. It Can Help With Cholesterol Levels
With more and more people suffering from high cholesterol levels each year, a lot of the balsamic vinegar research has been focused on its cholesterol-fighting properties and ability to help people maintain healthy levels. The abundance of antioxidants, polyphenols, in particular, have been shown to inhibit LDL oxidation and prevent toxic cells from raising LDL levels. Though not enough to be a standalone treatment, balsamic vinegar has been recognized as a great addition to any efforts to reduce cholesterol.
Another study also found that balsamic vinegar may help reduce atherosclerosis risk factors when consumed on a regular basis because of its natural cholesterol lowering properties. As one of the leading factors that contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, balsamic vinegar is great for those that are more at risk or wanting to take preventative measures.
3. Digestive and Immune System Health
When you consume food, the job of digestion falls to the stomach acids and bacteria present in the gut. If your digestive system is in bad shape, not only will you have a harder time digesting foods, but you’ll also be depriving your body of all the nutrients due to decreased absorption. One of the main active compounds found in balsamic vinegar is acetic acid, which is known to contain probiotic strains that help keep your body’s digestive system in good health.
Because it can help to create a healthy environment for good bacteria in the gut, your immune system is also going to get a boost, better preparing it to fight off illnesses. Lastly, balsamic vinegar can also influence the activity of pepsin, an enzyme that helps with the breakdown of protein so it can be absorbed by the body easier.
4. Weight Loss Aid
Representing an industry that generates over $60 billion annually in the United States alone, weight loss is a popular topic of discussion. Vinegars have long been known for their weight loss properties, and balsamic vinegar offers its own unique benefits as well. The range of probiotic compounds present in balsamic vinegar can actually help with the feeling of fullness, preventing the urge to overeat at lunch or indulge in a late night snack.
It’s also worth mentioning that balsamic vinegar gives you the freedom to add more flavor to your meals without the use of high-calorie, unhealthy alternatives such as butter, mayonnaise, and animal fats. Experiment with different cuisines and dishes to find exciting ways to incorporate it into your meals and help you reach your weight loss goals.