Condiment Confessions

A secret weapon in the pantry

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

If you’re like me, you went through a balsamic vinegar phase soon after you “discovered” it.

Venturing beyond its traditional habitat in the salad bowl, or drizzled on the occasional strawberry, you poured it on rice, added it to your favorite pickle recipe, and perhaps even used it in a stir-fry.

In my case, at any point where the bite of a little acid was needed, I went with balsamic, until I was sick of it. Balsamic vinegar is not mayonnaise, I realized. It does not make everything taste better.

More recently, I’ve become enamored with an offshoot of balsamic vinegar that’s a lot more versatile, and a lot harder to overdo. For years it went by the name white balsamic vinegar, as it’s made with similar ingredients.

Due to legal constraints concerning the word “balsamic,” it’s no longer available as white balsamic, but can be found under the names white Modena vinegar, or white Italian condiment.

Whatever you call it, many enthusiasts consider it simply to be an alternative to traditional red balsamic vinegar for those times when you want that sweet, tangy, balsamic-y complexity without the dark red color. But that simple distinction ignores the fact that the differences in flavor are significant.

It’s brighter, with more tang, with less heavy sweetness and a lighter finish. Unlike its darker cousin, white balsamic vinegar won’t hijack the flavor of your meal, and is content playing a supporting role. It’s also tremendously versatile, and can be used in a pinch to substitute variously for rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and even champagne vinegar.

White Italian condiment doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s a name worth getting used to, along with white Modena vinegar, if you want to acquire some. In the privacy of your own home you can call it what you wish. And whatever you call it, you should definitely use it.

White balsamic vinegar draws all the attention to itself. It’s a laborer in the kitchen, and does a great job on many fronts. You can deglaze with it, add it to marinades and even pickles.

I’ve written before about thin-sliced onions languishing in a white Italian condiment bath before being added to salads, and I stand behind that tactic. I’m also enthusiastic about drizzling some on my avocado toast, with olive oil, onion and tomato.

In my home, our biggest use for white Italian condiment is in salad dressing. We do a mixture of three parts olive oil and one part vinegar, with the vinegar portion consisting of equal parts cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and white Italian condiment, with soy sauce to taste (optional).

The pairing of three vinegars, two of which having balsamic tendencies, adds a sparkling depth to the dressing. Redundancy, at least in the context of food, can be a very good thing.

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