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When you think of balsamic vinegar, a dark and slightly sweet syrupy vinegar comes to mind. The highest quality balsamics come from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and can be aged for 12 to 150 years -- and cost hundreds of dollars per bottle. Even if your budget only allows for a more modest $3 to $10 bottle, you've most likely purchased a deep dark brown version with a caramel-y sweet flavor. Although a delicious addition to salad dressings and sauces, the color can turn dishes with light-colored ingredients a bit dingy or brown. Golden, or white, balsamic vinegar may be a suitable substitute in these instances.

Origins and Making

Golden balsamic vinegar originates from the same region of Italy as traditional dark balsamic vinegar. To make traditional dark balsamic, must from Trebbiano grapes is cooked for many hours to create a caramelized syrup, which is then aged to create the vinegar. Golden balsamic is instead created by cooking white grape must -- pressings -- under high pressure or at very low heat to prevent the deep coloring that occurs with caramelization. Instead of aging the vinegar for years, golden balsamic is put in oak barrels or stainless steel for only a year to prevent color changes.

Flavor Profiles

The shorter aging process means golden balsamic vinegar's flavors aren't as developed as those of longer-aged dark balsamics. Its consistency is more like that of white wine vinegar than a thick, aged balsamic. Golden balsamic vinegar tastes slightly more acidic than traditional dark balsamic vinegars and lacks the hallmark caramelized taste, but still has a slight sweetness.

Using Golden Balsamic

Golden balsamic works well in salad dressings and to deglaze pans to create a sauce for light-colored meats, such as white fish or chicken breast. Alone, the vinegar can add notes of acidity when sprinkled over roasted or fried meats, or when added to a marinade. No real taste advantage is had with using golden balsamic over dark balsamic; it mainly comes down to the look of the dish.

Storage and Substitutes

A bottle of golden balsamic vinegar, stored in a cool,dry place, will last for up to three years. You can use golden balsamic vinegar to substitute for dark balsamic vinegar, but recognize that the resulting dish may have a lighter flavor and miss out on some depth. If you're making a balsamic vinegar reduction, though, do not use golden balsamic as it will not cook down to a syrupy sweet sauce appropriate to drizzle over meats or even desserts. When a recipe calls for golden balsamic vinegar, dark balsamic may be a fine replacement, but it could alter the appearance of the final dish. If you'd like to keep the colors light, white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar are better options.