First, let’s refresh on what balsamic vinegar is. The first step is the same as that to making wine- the juicing of grapes, specifically Trebbiano. This must (fresh grape juice) is then caramelized and thickened, and this is where traditional balsamic vinegar gets its dark color and syrupy texture. This syrup is then aged, usually in oak barrels, for 12 to 25 years. During this time, even more flavor and dark color is imparted into the vinegar.
There are two key changes to this process that need to happen in order to make a white balsamic. First, the must is only simmered very lightly and for a short period of time, so that the liquid doesn’t color from caramelization at all, and only becomes slightly syrupy. The second change is in the ageing process. Whereas dark balsamic vinegars age for many years, white balsamic vinegars typically age only a year, and some never even come into contact with wood but are aged in steel tanks. This shortened ageing process gives white balsamic a lighter, more rounded flavor than its counterpart, but the overall sweet/acidic flavor is the same.
If they’re similar, why keep two balsamic vinegars in my pantry?
Do you use olive oil sometimes, and extra virgin olive oil others? The principle with balsamic and white balsamic vinegars is the same here. For those who don’t cook (we don’t like thinking about that idea, either!), there isn’t much incentive to purchase two products that are perceived to be fairly similar. For the rest of us, there’s plenty of reason to keep both on hand.
White balsamic has a lighter consistency than traditional dark balsamic, so it might be a good alternative for things like vinaigrettes, where you don’t want too much heavy flavor. The finish is also crisper and more clean, rather than leaving a lingering taste in your mouth the way balsamic does, making it a great pairing for light and bright salads. In terms of things like marinades or sauces, white balsamic’s lighter flavor can help keep the tone of the dish light, especially when using it with fish or vegetables.
Lastly, aesthetics play a role in the usage of white balsamic vinegar. When drizzling it over a finished dish or incorporating into something with light colors, white balsamic can look much nicer. Using a dark balsamic vinegar as a finishing touch on some dishes can make them look murky or muddled, but this one is purely a matter of preference!
What to do with it?
Anything you would do with traditional balsamic vinegar! Use it in marinades, vinaigrettes, or sauces that you want to keep a light color and flavor. An interesting way to use white balsamic is to deglaze your pan with it, instead of using white wine. The white balsamic will often give the finished sauce a more acidic flavor, or it can be used simply because you don’t want to use alcohol in your cooking.
We know you, like us, have multiple bottles of vinegars in your pantry already, add one more to your collection. You’ll thank us later!