Vinegar is created by fermenting alcohol or sugar with acetic acid bacteria. Since the dawn of civilization, vinegar has been used as both a condiment and as medicine.
It was the ancient Romans who mixed vinegar with water to make what was in effect the first sports drink, called posca, favored by Roman legionaries to sustain them on long marches.
Today, vinegar—in all of its forms—is used as both a condiment and as an ingredient in sauces, salad dressings, ketchup, and mustard. In the case of pickled foods, it also acts as a preservative.
Vinegar can be found in most supermarkets in the condiment aisle or the baking goods aisle, often next to the dark-green bottles of olive oil. Two of the most common kinds of vinegar at the store, which we will be talking about in this article, are balsamic and apple cider vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar is traditionally made from the whole grape, including skins, seeds, and stems, pressed, and then cooked over an open flame until reduced by half. Then, the results are fermented for three weeks.
After the fermenting process, the grape must is consigned to a series of barrels for 12 years. Traditional balsamic vinegar is only manufactured in Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. It carries a stamp of “Aceto Balsamico.”
Authentic traditional balsamic vinegar may be hard to find in the United States, though you can always check at Amazon. Imported bottles can set you back in the range of hundreds of dollars.
A more industrialized version of balsamic vinegar, often called Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, uses a quicker process, aging from two months to three years.
Condimento Balsamico uses the same processes as traditional balsamic vinegar but without the rigorous standards of the latter. Both of these versions are much cheaper than the traditional balsamic vinegar.
Vinegar of Modena is especially readily available in American supermarkets and can be quite inexpensive.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is created by chopping up apples, crushing and pressing the pieces, and separating the juices. The material is then stored in a tank for a two-stage fermentation process.
The first stage is called the alcoholic fermentation process, which combines apples with sugar and yeast. The second stage is called the acidic fermentation process, in which acetobacter bacteria is used to convert the sugars into vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is generally cheaper than the balsamic variety. Apple cider vinegar has not only been used in a wide variety of food recipes but also as a health remedy.
We encourage you to do your due diligence for the latter, as health benefits have been disputed. Apple cider vinegar is available in any supermarket.
What is Balsamic Vinegar Used for?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is not generally used for cooking, as the heat would kill its flavor. It is not even used as part of a salad dressing.
The traditional kind of balsamic vinegar, however, is great as a condiment. Drizzle it on some cheese or fruit to give these two dishes an added kick. It is commonly drizzled on top of bruschetta.
This kind of balsamic vinegar is also great on top of grilled meats or seafood. Be sure to use no more than a tablespoon per person, however. Traditional balsamic vinegar is so concentrated with flavor—and so expensive—that you will want to use it sparingly.
Condimento Balsamico can be used in dishes in much the same way as traditional balsamic vinegar, but more liberally, as it has a less saturated flavor and is far less expensive.
You can use it to dress your salads, either by itself or mixed with olive oil and, perhaps, some Italian herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano).
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, the type that is generally found in many supermarkets, is much more versatile than the more expensive traditional balsamic vinegar.
It can be used both as a condiment and in cooking.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is great as a salad dressing. Like the Condimento Balsamico, you can drizzle it on salad alone or as part of a homemade vinaigrette salad dressing. Mix it up in a bowl with olive oil and Italian herbs such as basil and oregano. Usually, one-quarter cup of balsamic vinegar and three-quarter cups of extra virgin olive oil will suffice. Some people will add honey and/or mustard.
Making soups or stews
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is also a great flavor enhancer for soups and stews. Just a tablespoon or so will suffice.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena can also be part of a marinade for chicken, steak, or seafood. A half-cup of vinegar, a half-cup of extra virgin olive oil, some minced garlic, and salt and pepper will kick up any protein dish a notch or two.
A balsamic glaze is also a splendid condiment to use for just about anything. Simmer two cups of balsamic vinegar along with a half-cup of brown sugar over medium heat in a saucepan for about eight to ten minutes. Allow chilling for at least 15 minutes before serving. The glaze will thicken while it cools.
A balsamic glaze can also be used for grilling any kind of meat: cook the chicken, steak, pork chop, or fish on the grill over medium-high heat. After ten minutes, turn the meat and brush half of the glaze on top of the meat. Grill for ten more minutes while brushing the meat with the remaining glaze.
What is Apple Cider Vinegar Used for?
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most versatile condiments that exists in the supermarket. Because it is so cheap, it can become a go-to addition to many of your cooking needs.
Apple cider vinegar can be part of a great homemade salad dressing. One recipe involves using one-third of a cup of extra virgin olive oil, a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar, a couple of teaspoons of mustard and honey each, a small shallot, or a couple of cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender.
The homemade vinaigrette will keep in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to a week, but you may want to bring it to room temperature before serving.
Soups and stews
Homemade soups and stews can benefit from the addition of apple cider vinegar, especially if they turn out to be a little bit salty. Add about half a tablespoon to the soup or stew, taste, and then add more as needed.
Apple cider vinegar is also a great addition to any marinade as it tenderizes the meat. You should use the vinegar sparingly, or it might turn the meat into mush.
A great marinade recipe that works for chicken but could be tried with other meats such as steak and pork consists of a third cup of extra virgin olive oil, a quarter cup of lemon juice, three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, garlic, and fresh Italian herbs.
Whisk the ingredients together, seal the chicken or other meat with the marinade in a zip-lock bag, and set aside for 30 minutes to four hours before grilling.
You can make coleslaw with a dressing made with apple cider vinegar instead of mayonnaise. Make a homemade dressing and then mix with shredded green cabbage, shredded red cabbage, peeled and shredded carrots, and thinly sliced green onions.
Apple cider vinegar can also be used as an ingredient for sauces, particularly tomato-based sauces. One recipe consists of one cup of apple cider vinegar, a half cup with two more tablespoons of ketchup, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. You can also substitute mustard for ketchup. The results are great for dipping or pouring over meat or vegetables. You can also add a splash of apple cider vinegar in any sauce to tone down the saltiness and add a little sweetness.
Apple cider vinegar tonic
Apple cider vinegar can also be drunk. One recipe consists of two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, eight ounces of distilled water, and two tablespoons of honey.
Adult beverages can also contain apple cider vinegar. Bourbon or rum is best for spiking with apple cider vinegar. Mix equal parts of vinegar with the alcoholic beverage, add some honey, heat in a saucepan on low until slightly warm and the honey dissolved, and then serve with a slice of citrus fruit or a cinnamon stick as a garnish.
Apple cider vinegar has been touted for a variety of health benefits for centuries, alleged to treat everything from obesity to diabetes. The claims are somewhat controversial, however.
Do your research, consult with a health care professional, and approach with caution. Do not drink pure apple cider vinegar as a dietary supplement; dilute it with at least three parts of water to prevent damage to your tooth enamel.