Balsamic Vinegar and Balsamic Dressing: What are the differences?

09 Oct 2018

All you have to do is search this title and you can see that there is more than a little confusion surrounding this topic. Recipes, definitions and characteristics of these two products are often mixed up or even worse, just blatantly wrong. But, in reality, vinegar and dressing, while remaining in the balsamic family, couldn’t be more different.

The one similarity that cannot be denied with regards to these two products is that they come from the same raw material: grapes. Now, the varieties used are traditionally Trebbiano, Lambruschi Grasparossa or Ancellotta and it is this that makes the dressing and vinegar quite similar in taste and sight or at least at first glance.


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In reality, they differ in many ways from acidity to characteristics not to mention, name. Below, we have compiled the main differences between balsamic vinegar and the traditional Modenese dressing so if you want to understand which is which once and for all, then just continue reading.


First things first, how is balsamic vinegar produced?

Before we even begin to look at the characteristics of these two condiments, we must understand how this vinegar is produced. The process is rather long and laborious, involving the use of specialised skills and instruments and yielding only a few litres of the precious liquid!

From 200 kilograms of fresh grapes, only 100 kilograms of cooked must (the part needed to make the vinegar) is produced which then leads to only a few litres of the finished product.

It all begins with the pressing of the grapes and after 24 hours (or less), the must is removed, sieved and finally brought to the boil over a low flame until it has reduced to at least half of the original volume.

Only once it has cooled can the must be transferred into wooden barrels (that haven’t been treated with any chemicals) and filled up to 70%. After a year, the must is poured into a smaller cask so that in subsequent years, it can take advantage of the thermal shock between the bitter winter and sizzling summer for fermentation and decanting.


Acidity and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI): Two complementary but different criteria

At this point, we can begin to notice some of the differences between the two products. Vinegar differs from dressing, firstly, in terms of acidity. Vinegar reaches 6% while the dressing is normally between 4.5 and 5%. With its high acidity, the vinegar wins the title of PGI which is a guarantee of quality.

To reach these percentages, time is of the utmost importance. The more time that passes, the easier it is for the acidity of the product to decrease. This means that balsamic vinegar risks becoming a dressing if it spends too much time inside the barrels.


The look, the taste and the smell

If you are unsure which is which, just turn to your senses to help you distinguish one product from the other. Balsamic vinegar has a dark and intense colour, a persistent and pleasantly acidic scent combined with a sweet and balanced flavour which is always just strong enough (and let’s not forget that its acidity is a little higher).

The same cannot be said for balsamic dressing. In look, it is dark brown with golden or white reflections if it is produced with grapes of the same colour. While the taste is bittersweet and slightly acidic given its lower percentage compared to the first.


But what about in the kitchen?

Now, we have arrived at the most fun – and tasty – part of this article: the different uses for balsamic vinegar and balsamic dressing in the kitchen. These are two products that need no cooking so it is always good to start by knowing what ingredients will pair well in any hot dish.

Here are some of the foods that can be kicked up a notch by the addition of vinegar:

  • Cooked or raw vegetables
  • Cured meats
  • Cheeses
  • Meat
  • Omelettes
  • Fruit salad
  • Salads

This condiment can be matched with fish, ice cream or even chocolate becoming a perfect substitute for wine vinegar to dress salads and to flavour meats.




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