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Balsamic vinegar is made by reducing unfermented grape juice—officially called “grape must”—and then cooking it down and aging in wooden barrels to create a delicate flavor that expertly balances both sweet and sour. Traditionally, balsamic vinegar comes from Italy, and, as a general rule, vinegars that are produced in the Modena or Reggio Emilia regions are considered the highest quality.
But some of these types of vinegars can get expensive. We’re talking $150 to 300 per bottle, with some rare varieties going up to $1,000. We know that most people don’t have that kind of cash to shell out on a bottle of balsamic vinegar, however.
So while considering flavor, aroma, and viscosity, we narrowed it down to the best balsamic vinegars that taste great without the shocking price tag.
Best Overall: VSOP 25-Year Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar
The VSOP 25-Year Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar, a Williams-Sonoma exclusive, checked all of the necessary boxes, earning it the spot of best overall balsamic vinegar. Crafted from unfermented white Trebbiano grape juice and then aged in wooden oak barrels, this balsamic vinegar has a rich aroma and flavor with the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness to finish off any meal (or dessert).
Its thick viscous consistency is ideal for all applications from drizzling, to dipping, to sipping. And, with only one ingredient—25-year-old 100 percent balsamic vinegar—you don’t have to worry about artificial ingredients or colors.
Best Aged: Giuseppe Giusti Deposito Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena must come from specific regions of Italy, be produced in the traditional way, and be judged by tasters before it can be bottled in a specific style of bottle, with a numbered seal affixed. All of these steps add to the cost of the vinegar, but also ensure a better product overall.
This vinegar can be lightly drizzled on top of vanilla ice cream or fresh strawberries, sipped as a digestif, or used to dress fresh ripe tomatoes. The tiny bottle has a high price tag but it's worth the splurge if you're looking for something truly special. If this is a little too pricey, a 12-year aged vinegar is also available from the same company.
Best Value: Kitchen & Love Premium Balsamic Vinegar
Some balsamic vinegars can be expensive, but price isn’t always synonymous with taste, and the Kitchen & Love Premium Balsamic Vinegar proves that. The premium balsamic vinegar is made in Medona, Italy with non-GMO ingredients and minimal processing. It has a light, palate-pleasing flavor that’s ideal for salad dressings, sauces, and dipping.
And, at just around 50 cents per ounce—other options on this list can go for $2.36 to $4.73 an ounce—you can add this authentic balsamic vinegar to your pantry without breaking the bank.
Best for Dipping: OMG! Classic Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar
The low acidity and subtle flavor of the OMG! Classic Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar makes it an ideal option for dipping a warm crusty piece of bread, straight from the oven (or your local bakery’s oven).
Made from Trebbiano grapes grown in Modena, Italy, and then aged in oak barrels for 12 to 18 years, this high-quality authentic vinegar has a versatile flavor profile and naturally thick consistency that make it an excellent choice for dipping and finishing.
Best for Salads: Ellora Farms Balsamic Vinegar Spray
With the Ellora Farms Balsamic Vinegar Spray, your days of drenching parts of your salad while under-dressing others are over. Ellora Farms crafts its balsamic vinegar from red grapes that are grown in vineyards in Crete, Greece, and then ages them in oak barrels for six months to create a premium quality balsamic vinegar with balanced sweet and sour flavors that make the perfect complement to all types of foods.
And, the clog-free sprayers not only allow you to perfectly portion the balsamic vinegar, but they also have an innovative design that reaches to the bottom of the bottle so you can get every last drop.
Best Glaze: Colavita Balsamic Glaze
Made by further reducing balsamic vinegar to boil off excess water, the Colavita Balsamic Glaze takes viscosity to a whole new level. The thickened glaze, which is crafted in Italy, has just the right balance of tartness and sweetness, making it an ideal grilling sauce for meat, chicken, fish, and vegetables. It’s also an excellent option for drizzling as a finishing glaze on salads, cheese, pasta dishes, fresh fruits, or desserts.
And, since it’s offered at a great price—around 37 to 50 cents per ounce—you can be a little more generous with your portions or use it as a marinade.
Best Fig Balsamic: Chef Jean Pierre’s Black Mission Fig Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Chef Jean Pierre’s Black Mission Fig Aged Balsamic Vinegar has extra sweetness and thick, syrupy consistency that really make it the star of the show. This balsamic vinegar is crafted from grapes from Modena, Italy, and reduced without any preservatives or added sweeteners.
While it’s just as versatile as regular balsamic vinegar—you can use it on salads, meats, or roasted vegetables—the added sweetness and fruity undertones from the fig make it ideal for drizzling over ice cream, grilled peaches, or a bowl of fresh berries.
Best White Balsamic: Blazing Bella White Balsamic Vinegar
Flavored balsamic vinegar is pretty common, and fig vinegar is one of the most popular varieties, thanks to the sweetness and body it adds. While figs are certainly delicious, they don’t add a hard hit of flavor that might conflict with your food, so you can use this vinegar anywhere you’d use a plain balsamic.
It's great for salads or brushed onto chicken or ribs before you throw them on the grill. Because of the sweetness the figs add, this is also lovely drizzled over strawberries or grilled peaches.
Best Organic: QO Gourmet Organic Balsamic Vinegar
Dual-certified organic by both the CCPB S.R.L. in Italy and the USDA, you can be sure you’re getting authentic balsamic vinegar with every bottle of QO Gourmet Organic Balsamic Vinegar.
QO Gourmet makes its balsamic vinegar in small batches by combining organic grape must with organic wine vinegar and then aging it and refining it in wooden barrels. The result is a thick, full-bodied balsamic vinegar that’s truly versatile with its tangy sweetness and well-balanced aroma.
If you’re looking for an infused organic balsamic vinegar, QO has you covered with citrus, hot chili, blueberry, and raspberry options.
Best Gift Set: Mantova Organic Balsamic Vinegar Flavored 4-Pack
Mantova takes tradition and authenticity seriously, by growing, sourcing, pressing, and bottling its balsamic vinegars in Modena, Italy. These flavored vinegars are made by combining concentrated and cooked organic grape must with organic wine vinegar and natural flavors. The vinegar is then aged in wooden barrels to create complex flavors that combine fruity, sweet, and tart flavors and aromas all in one bottle.
This four-pack includes raspberry, fig, pomegranate, and pear—four extremely versatile flavors that level up any dish, from fish to chicken to salad to ice cream.
The VSOP 25-Year Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar (view at Williams Sonoma) will cover all of the bases at a fair price. If you’re looking for something more specific, the Ellora Farms Balsamic Vinegar Spray (view at Amazon) is great for salads, while the OMG! Classic Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar (view at Amazon) is best for dipping.
What to Look for in Balsamic Vinegar
Like wine, balsamic vinegar tends to improve with age, and the longer a variety ages, the more expensive it tends to be.
Aging produces vinegars with a more concentrated and complex flavor. The consistency of the vinegar also changes with age, getting thicker and more syrupy as more and more water in the vinegar evaporates with time.
The type of grapes and the region the grapes come from impacts the flavor and price of vinegar. Balsamic made with grapes exclusively from the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy are the gold standard and also the priciest.
As with aging and grape variety, vinegars made with traditional methods in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy are the top-tier balsamic vinegars. To know where and how a vinegar has been produced, look to the label.
If a balsamic vinegar is labeled “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale," which is known as a D.O.P. stamp, it was made in one of those two regions and aged for a minimum of 12 years according to Italian laws governing the production of balsamic vinegar.
Vinegars with the D.O.P. stamp are the most expensive, but they contain only grape must, so they're thicker, sweeter, and more flavorful compared to vinegars without the stamp. Heat can destroy the flavor of traditional balsamic vinegars, so they're best used for drizzling atop cooked dishes, desserts, and salads to let the flavor shine.
Less expensive varieties are made with grapes from outside the Modena region, aged for less time, and can contain other ingredients, like acidic wine vinegar and caramel coloring, to keep costs down.
Look for an I.G.P. stamp on these bottles, which verifies the grapes used are comparable to grapes grown in Modena and that the vinegar was still produced in the Modena region according to certain Italian standards. I.G.P. balsamics are best for cooking since they contain more water to evaporate in reductions.
What is balsamic vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar is a dark, concentrated vinegar that’s made from grape must—whole grapes, including the seeds, stems, and skins that are pressed into a juice. It’s tart, but slightly sweet, and often used to make dressings, glazes, and marinades. Traditional balsamic vinegar is made with only white grapes (usually Trebbiano grapes), but lots of commercial vinegars combine grape must and wine vinegar.
How is balsamic vinegar made?
Traditional balsamic vinegar contains only grape must, which is also the foundational ingredient in wine. To make grape must, whole grapes are harvested and then pressed or crushed into liquid. The liquid is then boiled to remove excess water and form a concentrate and transferred to wood barrels to ferment and age.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged 12 to 25 years (or longer), while commercial balsamic vinegar is aged for two months to three years and mixed with wine vinegar to speed up the acidification process.
Is balsamic vinegar gluten-free?
True balsamic vinegar is naturally gluten-free. However, lower-quality vinegars may be mixed with additives and colorings that contain gluten. Make sure to always read labels and ingredient lists to check if there are any added ingredients.
Is balsamic vinegar vegan?
Yes, true balsamic vinegar is vegan. Like with gluten, however, additional ingredients in lower-quality vinegars may not be vegan-friendly. Always make sure to check your labels if you’re not buying a true balsamic vinegar.
Does balsamic vinegar have sugar?
True balsamic vinegar doesn’t have any sugar added to it, but it’s made from concentrated grapes, which contain natural sugar. One tablespoon of balsamic vinegar contains 2.4 grams of sugar. Commercial balsamic vinegar may have sugar added to it to sweeten it up a little, so always check your labels.
How long does balsamic vinegar last?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged in wooden barrels for up to 25 years, and like other aged liquids, like rum or whiskey, it continues to get better the longer it sits. As such, you can keep traditional balsamic vinegar for many years (The Vinegar Institute says almost indefinitely), and it will be just as good, if not better, than when you bought it.
Commercial balsamic vinegar generally has a shelf life of three to five years. It doesn’t necessarily go bad or spoil, but it usually tastes best within this time period.
Does balsamic vinegar need to be refrigerated?
No, you can store balsamic vinegar in your pantry or a cool, dark place. If you like to use balsamic vinegar to make dressing and prefer it chilled, you can store it in the refrigerator.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Lindsay Boyers is a certified holistic nutritionist with extensive nutrition knowledge and food and beverage testing experience. She’s developed over 1,000 original recipes and is constantly on a mission to find the healthiest, best-tasting options and ingredients across all food and drink categories.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, a home cook who happens to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She's slightly obsessed with trying new grocery items and finding the healthiest and best-tasting options. When she's not perusing grocery aisles, Sharon writes evidence-based nutrition articles, develops recipes, and specializes in small kitchen appliance reviews for The Spruce Eats.