What is Balsamic Vinegar? How Do You Use It?

What Using Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is one of those stray cupboard ingredients that has made its way into a dazzling array of recipes in recent years, but what is balsamic vinegar?  If you buy a bottle of balsamic vinegar, will you use it up?

At its simplest, balsamic vinegar is vinegar mixed with wine and then reduced down, so it’s vinegar, with a tang of taste that takes the “edge” off the vinegary taste, making it great in a lot of recipes where you might reach for vinegar.  I picked up this bottle of balsamic vinegar at Aldi, it cost just 59p.

There’s no point buying ingredients for one recipe that caught your eye if you don’t ever use it again, it’ll just make you hurt inside each time you open the cupboard and see it lurking at the back.  So how can you use it?

Like any new ingredient to your home, you will need to explore new recipes and ways of using up this strange new item… so it becomes your “go to” bottle.  Who doesn’t reach for a jar of ketchup when they see a chip?  You need to find 1-2 items that make you automatically head for the balsamic as your “quick fix”.  I can’t tell you what yours will be, we’re all different.

Firstly, if you’re buying your first bottle, don’t get sucked into thinking that the £20-30 bottle is the only one that’s worth buying.  There are plenty of budget brands costing under £1 that are perfectly adequate for the job.  If you have to ask about it, the luxury end of the market would be wasted on you right now 🙂

What is balsamic vinegar used for in cooking?

Here are a few ideas for you to get thinking:

  • Balsamic can be added to dishes at the start of cooking – it’s often added to marinades for vegetables and meats.  If you marinade before you bake or barbecue, then you can use your balsamic there. Just add a couple of spoons to the mix.
  • As a salad splash, balsamic vinaigrette recipes give you something to slosh over salads, make it up and keep it in a Mason jar in the fridge and it’s ready to go. One simple salad leaf balsamic vinaigrette recipe is to mix 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, with just a little black pepper.
  • A splash for your pizza – some people make a balsamic mix to sprinkle over their pizzas, a ginger/garlic vinaigrette is popular with some.  Others will splash it on a salad beside their pizza, or on their chips – and some will just splash it over the lot!  What’s your sweet spot for that? Or, just add a splash of balsamic to your DIY pizza toppings before you bake them.
  • Use it as a meat glaze.  Some people will make up a glaze for their meat, using balsamic vinegar as a base.  Glazing meat like this and basting with further layers, can give you a great extra flavour to your meal.
  • Home made sweet and sour sauce will often feature balsamic vinegar in the recipe, typically using 2-3 tablespoons in a dish that serves 4.  Sweet & sour sauce uses vinegar and you can use regular vinegar or rice vinegar, but if you’ve got balsamic vinegar in the cupboard then that’s equally valid!  This is one of my ways to get through a bottle.
  • As a bread dipping sauce the simple recipe of 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, with just a little black pepper is a great starting point for you to experiment with.  You can dip rustic bread or focaccia bread into a little pot of this – great as a snack for yourself, or to put onto the “sides” table at a barbecue if that’s how you roll!
  • Splash it into tinned spaghetti to make it a little tastier. I’ll admit to buying cheap tinned spaghetti and spaghetti hoops, served on toast, these cost just 14-16p for a large can and a splash of balsamic vinegar really makes a difference to the taste!
  • A splash of balsamic vinegar in a bag of plain salted crisps is much nicer than using regular brown vinegar!

How Much Balsamic Vinegar to Use?

You never need a lot, just a tablespoon in a dish that serves four is usually enough, so half a teaspoon or so for a single portion.  You can always add a little more next time.  Unless you’re following a recipe that specifically tells you to use more, 1-3 tablespoons is a rough idea of how much to use.

Are There Many Calories in Balsamic Vinegar?

No, it’s almost calorie free – as a rule of thumb, you can say there are about 20 calories per tablespoon, so splash away!  It can turn a diet salad into something special, for the sake of a few calories.

How Long Does Balsamic Vinegar Keep?

Balsamic is pretty indestructible.  How long would you keep regular vinegar? It’d be years, right – well, most bottles of balsamic will have a shelflife printed on them of 7+ years!  So there’s no need to use it up right away, it can sit and lurk in the cupboard if you don’t get round to using it up right away.

Now I’ve written this, I realise I don’t use balsamic vinegar enough – and I should remember to use it more.  Sweet & sour chicken is one of my favourite dishes so that, for me, would be the way I should utilise balsamic more often.  Adding balsamic vinegar to pizza toppings is another great way to use it up and add a little extra taste!  All I have to do is remember, eh 🙂

If all else fails – you can always splash it on your chips!  I do this all the time now as I was finding modern vinegar to be disappointing and balsamic vinegar seems more tangy and more like the traditional vinegar I remember from eating chips as a child!