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Is Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar Real? (Answered)

Is Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinegar Real

When you’re paying a bit of a premium for the ingredients that you’re buying, you want to know that you’re getting something legitimate. If you’ve been perusing the pantry section at your local grocery store you might be wondering: is Trader Joe’s balsamic vinegar real?

The Organic Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Platinum Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena both come with a seal of authenticity that proves they were made in the original region and through a highly regulated process.

Read ahead to find out why this particular topic is pretty hotly debated, and what you actually get for your money when you’re buying balsamic vinegar at Trader Joe’s.

What is Balsamic Vinegar?

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To understand what we’re talking about here, we first need to get to the bottom of what balsamic vinegar actually is.

Balsamic vinegar is a really dark, concentrated, and strongly flavored type of vinegar that was first created in Modena, Italy. It is primarily made with grape must – which is the freshly crushed juice of grapes containing all of the stems, seeds, and sticks as well.

White grapes that have just been harvested (usually of the Trebbiano variety) are boiled down until they have at least 30% sugar concentration, then they are fermented.

The vinegar is traditionally aged in wooden barrels for at least 12 years to intensify the flavor and make the liquid more viscous, although some cheaper versions are made in a shorter timeframe or add in additional ingredients.

To check the current price and availability of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar, click here to view the listing on Amazon.

What Makes Balsamic Vinegar Real?

So, what is the difference between real balsamic vinegar and “fake” balsamic vinegar? It all comes down to the ingredients and how it’s made – and there are some protected terms that can help you tell them apart.

The term “aceto balsamico” or “balsamic vinegar” is unregulated, so companies can put this label on their products regardless of how they have been made. Fortunately, though, there are a few terms that are very highly regulated and can only be used for the real thing.

The three types of authentic balsamic vinegar are:

  • Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia
  • Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena/Reggio Emilia

The two “Traditional” types have to be made in the specific region that they state, they have to be made according to traditional methods, and they have to be made using just one ingredient: grape must.

The entire Traditional Balsamic Vinegar process is regulated, from production to packaging, and both varieties come with a DOP certificate (The European Union’s Denominazione di Origine Protetta or Protected Designation of Origin certification).

The process is very lengthy and pretty expensive, which is why you find bottles going for up to $100 or more in certain stores.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

This alternative label, which doesn’t include the word “Traditional”, is a slightly less expensive version, and it has slightly more lenient rules over what can be included in the product.

The main difference is that the grape must in Balsamic Vinegar of Modena can be blended with up to 50% wine vinegar. It still needs to be made exclusively in Modena or Reggio Emilia, though, and the process is still highly regulated.

This term is protected by a different regulatory body and is authenticated by the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication).

Is Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar Authentic?

With all of that in mind, is the balsamic vinegar at Trader Joe’s authentic? It is, although it is not Traditional.

The two main balsamic vinegar products that Trader Joe’s sells are both real Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Their Organic Balsamic Vinegar and their Platinum Aged Balsamic Vinegar both come with a PGI certificate that shows the process has been carefully regulated by the Balsamic Consortium.

While neither are considered Traditional (as they include wine vinegar as well as grape must), they are definitely real balsamic.

The Platinum Aged option is actually very viscous and rich in flavor and has matured in oak barrels for at least 3 years.

Customers love them both too. The Organic option is more of an everyday staple that livens up a salad or creates an amazing vinaigrette, while the Platinum Aged is more of a fine treat that you would drizzle over strawberries or dip your bread into.

Is Real Balsamic Vinegar Better?

Whether you opt for the products at Trader Joe’s or you choose to look elsewhere for your balsamic vinegar, you should know the difference between a genuine article and a knock-off imitation.

Sure, you can buy “balsamic vinegar” for a dollar or two, but it won’t be quite the same thing.

True balsamic vinegar has a very dark brown color, a glossy shine to it, and is very viscous. This is because the aging process thickens it up to almost like syrup. It is sweet, rich, and full of flavor.

People say that real balsamic vinegar tastes like figs, cherries, chocolate, molasses, and prunes. It’s for drizzling but not for cooking, and it can cost $100 for a bottle.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (like those at Trader Joe’s) is a little diluted due to the inclusion of wine vinegar. It’s less viscous and more acidic, and the flavor is rarely as intense or complex as Traditional vinegar.

This vinegar is great for salads, you can cook with it, and you can use it to make marinades, vinaigrettes, and dips. Depending on the quality and how much vinegar is included, a bottle can range from $5 to $30.

Imitation balsamic vinegar will have a lot of added ingredients. This stuff is basically just regular vinegar with sweeteners and coloring added to make something resembling the real thing.

It can have a variety of different textures, viscosities, and flavors, and it is significantly cheaper. You can buy some imitation balsamic for just a few dollars.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can You Tell if Balsamic Vinegar Is High Quality?

High-quality balsamic vinegar will be labeled as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia, or Balsamic Vinegar of Modena – and come with a DOP or PGI stamp.

It should contain either just grape must or grape must and wine vinegar, and it should be dark, thick, rich, and full of flavor.

Is There Fake Balsamic Vinegar?

There are a lot of imitation balsamic vinegar products, like balsamic glaze, balsamic syrup, balsamic ketchup, and more.

They all contain additional or alternative ingredients instead of just grape must and wine vinegar, and they are usually artificially sweetened and thickened.

What Are Good Balsamic Vinegar Brands?

Some great balsamic vinegar brands include Giuseppe Giusti Deposito Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, VSOP 25-Year Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar, and Acetaia San Giacomo Balsamic Vinegar.

Final Thoughts

So, is Trader Joe’s balsamic vinegar real? Both of the kinds that they sell are, but they are not completely Traditional as they include wine vinegar as well as grape must.

You can tell that their products are the real deal by the PGI certificate of authenticity and by the fact that they are made with only wine vinegar and grape must. They are actually very reasonably priced for the quality that you get.


Shane is a fitness enthusiast who also has a passion for trying and cooking new foods. His favorite stores to shop at include Trader Joe's, Wholefoods Market, Sprouts, Stater Brothers, and Target.

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