Balsamic vinegar takes its name from the Italian word for "health-giving" and originates in Modena and nearby Reggia Emilia in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy.
Traditional production involves long ageing of grape must in small barrels until it concentrates and evaporates, whereupon it is transferred into gradually smaller barrels of different wood types until it is a rich, sweet, viscous syrup.
A single drop of this wonderful product is enough to fill the mouth with flavour for five minutes.
Sadly, this traditional product can cost more than €100 so most of us have to stick with the basic version, which is factory produced.
The factory version imitates the flavour and texture of the artisan version by adding grape must and colouring to wine vinegar.
Upmarket supermarkets such as Superquinn have now begun to stock up to a dozen varieties of Balsamic vinegar of varying quality, but it would have been impossible to test them all so I decided to stick with the basic versions in keeping with these more frugal times. Once the test was complete I regretted not including some of the aged versions as none of the samples tasted like real balsamic vinegar.
These cheaper versions would only be tolerable for salad dressings but could be made more interesting if you boil them down by half to concentrate the flavour.
SUPERQUINN, 250ML, €1.99
Richest tasting of all the samples. Still a little too acidic but at least this had a touch of richness and tasted a little of sweet wine and caramel. Best of a very poor bunch. 6.5/10
ROMA, 500ML, €3.99
Rich caramel flavour, some sweetness but with a background taste of malt vinegar. Thicker than most and with reasonably low acidity. Not bad. 6/10
ALDI SOLESTA, 500ML, €1.45
Caramel taste with a light wine vinegar taste and a bitter kick on the finish. Very inexpensive and, given the price, this is pretty good — a little too acidic but at least it tastes of wine vinegar. 5.5/10
TESCO, 250ML, €1.69
Sweet wine and vinegar taste. Still not sweet, or rich enough, but does taste slightly of wine and has a little richness. 5.5/10
SUPERVALU COOKS INGREDIENTS, 500ML, €2.49
Slight sweetness but mostly this tastes of strong malt vinegar with a little sugar added. 5/10
LIDL ACENTINO, 500ML, €1.45
Light flavour but a strong vinegar kick on the finish. Inexpensive but really more like a good malt vinegar than a wine vinegar. 5/10
FILIPPO BERIO, 500ML, €3.99
Light malt vinegar aroma with a very strong vinegar taste with no sweetness. Poor. 4/10