Monday, December 10, 2007

OPC Cooking Class

Last night for dinner I made maple-balsamic-glazed pork medallions, and I got to wondering what was in the balsamic vinegar to give it that piquant flavor, so I checked the label. It turns out the only ingredient is "balsamic vinegar," plus some sulfites. So that's that.

Hey! Wait! I got a real complaint. Vinegar isn't even a naturally occurring substance, much less balsamic vinegar. My box of Oreos can't get away with claiming the contents within are made of "black cookies" and "creme [sic] filling." So how come balsamic vinegar can get away with that?

It turns out that balsamic is made from white grape juice, which is boiled down to half the original volume, then fermented and aged in a series of wooden casks. Traditionally, seven different woods are used in the aging process; none of them, curiously enough, is balsa wood. Also, warns Wikipedia, "Several mass-produced, less expensive varieties may not be aged in wood at all, being nothing more than ordinary wine vinegar with coloring and added sugar." How am I supposed to know if this is what I'm getting, when the labels don't list the ingredients?

Apparently, balsamic vinegar skates through the same loophole that allows beer, wine and other liquors to refrain from listing their ingredients, on the grounds that "beer" or "wine" or whatever is an ingredient in itself. Perhaps it has something to do with the fermenting process being akin to the creation of an entirely new substance; I do not know. If I find out, I will tell you.

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