Balsamic vinegar has long been praised for its exceptional health benefits and ease of use in low-calorie diets. But does this apply to what’s on the market today?
Does balsamic vinegar have sugar in it? Virtually all balsamic vinegars do contain at least some natural sugars from the fruits used to make them, many also contain added sugars. In fact, many commercialized options have up to 20 grams of added artificial sugars per 100 grams of vinegar.
Authentic balsamic vinegar still contains sugar but has a much lower amount than brands with lots of artificial ingredients. This is where the “it is healthy” mentality started.
But you should not confuse this product with the fake alternatives that are on the market today, which are very unhealthy, high in calories, and packed with sugar.
In this article, we will take a look at exactly what balsamic vinegar is and how it is made. Then, we’ll compare the different sugar levels of different options, and explain the differences this makes.
What Is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar is one of the most flavorful options out there. It is extremely unique, and there are thousands if not tens of thousands, of products out there.
But what makes it so extremely popular? And why are there so many options to choose from?
It all comes down to the flavor.
Balsamic vinegar is made from grape must, either partially or completely. Grape must is essentially freshly crushed grapes that include all of the juices, skins, stems, and seeds. This develops a very complex and rich flavor. The reduced grape must is processed and allowed to age for several years.
While there aren’t any regulations on the term “balsamic,” there are three types that are considered to be authentic. They include:
- Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP
- Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP
- Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP.
All other products are considered by many to be imitation balsamic vinegar and
Does Balsamic Vinegar Have Sugar?
Now, part of why so many people are curious about the sugar contents in balsamic vinegar is because you get “real” and “imitation” balsamic vinegar.
Technically, all balsamic vinegar does contain sugar. However, the major difference is that authentic balsamic vinegar doesn’t contain any added sugars.
Added sugars are defined as ANY type of sweetener that is added. That can include honey, granulated white or brown sugar, cane sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, and even artificial sugars!
More often than not, this commercially made vinegar is sweetened with sucrose, dextrose, glucose, fructose, starch syrup, lactose, maltose, and all the other “-toses” out there!
Even vegan options like stevia aren’t allowed to be added if you are truly making real balsamic vinegar!
It is shocking to find how artificial some of these products are when in reality, the reason they are so sought-after is their natural tangy, sweet, bitter flavor.
So again, real balsamic vinegar does contain sugar, but the amounts don’t come from added sugars. They come from the natural sugars that are present in the grape must.
Almost 95% of industrially-made balsamic vinegar contains added sugars. These have a much higher sugar content than authentic balsamic vinegar.
How Much Sugar Does Balsamic Vinegar Have?
The answer to this question depends on a couple of factors.
The first is what type of balsamic vinegar are you working with. Is it real, authentic vinegar, or commercialized vinegar with added sugars?
The second is what the specific product is. Even between different natural balsamic vinegar products, you can have varying sugar levels.
That’s because the producer can alter the amount of sugar that is present in the grapes before allowing the fermentation process to start.
And, of course, for commercially made artificial balsamic vinegar, the manufacturers can adjust the amount of added sugars they incorporate into the recipe.
Let’s take a look at how the sugar levels vary and what they are for different types of balsamic vinegar.
Authentic (Traditional) Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is made by fermenting the sugars that are naturally present in the grape must. The sugars are converted into acids by the yeast and bacteria present in the mixture. This is how vinegar is made.
The amount of sugar affects how the yeast converts it to acids. And ultimately, this affects the final flavor of the product.
So, how can there be varying sugar levels in all-natural authentic balsamic vinegar?
The key is in the grapes used. Most balsamic vinegars are made from sweeter grape varietals. For example, the Trebbiano grape is a naturally sweet species, so it is commonly used for balsamic vinegar.
Then, these sweet grapes are harvested very late. That gives them time to develop even more natural sugars, making them even sweeter than they are when harvested for wine.
So, ultimately, the sweeter the grapes, the higher the levels of natural sugars are.
In traditional balsamic vinegar, there can be as little as 2.4 grams of natural sugar. Again, no added sugars are in this product. That’s what makes it so sought-after.
Commercially-Made (Fake) Balsamic Vinegar
The exact number of sugar in these products varies. It depends on how much the manufacturer has added and the type of sweetener they used.
A great example of this is Sucralose, also known as Splenda. It is made from sugar but doesn’t contain any calories. It is 600 times sweeter than granulated cane sugar.
Therefore, manufacturers will use a lot less than they would when using sugar. The same goes for something like Stevia.
That does mean that the balsamic vinegar doesn’t contain sugar. It just means that it is a 0-calorie sweetener. And this sweetener adds other “problematic elements” even if it isn’t pure sugar.
On average, these types of balsamic vinegar contain anywhere between 10 to 20 grams of sugar (per 100 grams of balsamic vinegar). That’s incredibly high!
It does make the vinegar more palatable to the general population. But it’s not natural. It’s not what balsamic vinegar should be and doesn’t have the same flavor that authentic balsamic vinegar has.
Can You Adjust The Sweetness Of Balsamic Vinegar?
You cannot adjust the amount of sugar in the balsamic vinegar after you have bought it. And even if you can alter the flavor, that doesn’t take away the elements that the added sugar contributes (like calories or specific nutrients).
15 grams of sugar will remain 15 grams of sugar. You can dilute it, but that’s about it.
As we’ve said, you can alter the flavor. You can actually make balsamic vinegar less sweet or sweeter. How do you do that?
Well, to make balsamic vinegar sweeter, add more sugar. If you used authentic balsamic vinegar, you are obviously now making it more artificial. But, to each his own.
You can use granulated sugar, honey, stevia, Splenda, xylitol, or syrup. Just keep in mind the different levels of sweetness each of these has. That will determine how much you need to add. You will add less stevia than granulated sugar.
Making the vinegar less sweet is more difficult. You will have to play around with the amount of salt and acid in the recipe. Both those elements can help balance the flavor profile, making the vinegar less sweet.
Again, it won’t change the sugar content. But it will change the flavor.
Can You Buy Sugar-Free Balsamic Vinegar?
From our research, you cannot really find sugar-free balsamic vinegar. Again, you need sugar to make the vinegar.
What you can find is added sugar-free balsamic vinegar options, like this Papa Vince Aged Balsamic Vinegar. It still contains about 3 grams of sugar, but it’s all-natural.
Be very careful when looking at “sugar-free” balsamic products. Often they use misleading terms, and it ends up being a balsamic-flavored salad dressing or vinaigrette. It’s not actually balsamic vinegar.
And again, sugar-free often just means free of granulated white sugar. You have to check the back of the package to make sure it really doesn’t contain any sugar or is very low in sugar.
At the end of the day, the short answer is yes. All types of balsamic vinegar contain some amount of sugar. You don’t get balsamic vinegar that doesn’t contain sugar. Then it’s not balsamic vinegar, just a balsamic-flavored condiment.
Natural, authentic, or traditional balsamic vinegar contains far less sugar than commercially made options. It can contain roughly 2.4 grams of all-natural sugars. These sugars come from grapes and are essential to make vinegar.
Most commercially made balsamic vinegar products contains some type of added sweetener. Even though they may not be granulated white sugar, they are still sweeteners.
Depending on what type of sweetener is added, the amount of sugar will differ. On average, you can expect these products to contain between 10-20 grams of sugar.
It’s great if they use a 0-calorie sweetener. But that still doesn’t take away the natural sugars from the grapes.