My Accidental Sip of Wine: Balsamic Vinegar's Surprising Alcohol Content

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What does a summer lunch look like for me? A Caprese salad. Buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and fresh tomatoes. I love growing tomatoes and basil and always having it on hand. Today I accidentally had a sip of wine. I pulled out my balsamic vinegar and drizzled it on my tomatoes. I took a bite and boom. WINE. I am not scared of fermented things. I know that a small amount of alcohol exists in everything from OJ and kombucha to your tiramisu. I have even started having an NA beer (0.5%) when I am out on the rare occasion, never at home. But, when wine comes upon you unexpectedly, it is a shock. Balsamic vinegar is not supposed to have that much alcohol in it. That much is a hot mess express to craving city.

Well, now I've discovered the discrepancy in Modena balsamic vinegars. There is a commercial product that is displayed in stores using Modena in its name. My balsamic came from Italy. But, it is not pure balsamic. It is cut with wine vinegar. To some people, this might be fine. But, if you were a lover of acidic red wine, this will tempt your tastebuds into oblivian. The immediate want that two tablespoons gives you is insane, even after a year of abstention. Once again I am assured that I cannot have just one sip of wine. My brain always responds with, more more more. 

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Be mindful of the balsamic vinegar you purchase. Look at the label. The FDA does not regulate the alcohol content on balsamic vinegar, there is no requirement to display the percentage of alcohol. The good news is you can avoid alcohol in balsamic by choosing the balsamic that is pure from Modena. Mine very clearly stated "wine vinegar" on the ingredients. I just didn't bother to look. At the very least, it had 2% alcohol content. I could be an FDA tester. Alcoholic skillz. I do not shy away from up to 0.5%. Minute alcohol doesn't bother me. 2% does.

It depends on the concoction. A lot.
 

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Dr. Gourmet explains...

"Your bottle may say Modena, but it may or may not be "Modena Brand." The best balsamic vinegars are made in Modena, Italy and many bottles will have the Modena name on them. There is no requirement by the FDA or the USDA that manufacturers report alcohol content of their products (except for wine, beer and spirits).

Because vinegar is made in a two step process, first by fermenting alcohol and then by fermenting the alcohol to acetic acid, there will be some residual alcohol in vinegars. It is, however, very little. I found an article from 2004 in the journal Science Direct that indicates the amount of alcohol in a wine vinegar is between 0.1% and 2%. There are a lot of factors that go into this. One is the length of time that the vinegar is aged. The longer the fermentation, the lower the alcohol content. Another factor is the container used for fermentation. Using oak barrels appears to have an effect that speeds fermentation and thus reduces the alcohol content further and faster.

The amount of alcohol will vary widely between different vinegars depending on the method of fermentation. Since the better quality balsamic vinegars are aged for longer periods and are aged in oak, it is likely that the alcohol content will be much closer to the 0.1% range.

Thanks for writing.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet"

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Guess what? I am still me, alcohol free, learning a little something new everyday in recovery.  I did not drink the whole bottle of vinegar...so today is a win. Time for a sober victory dance.