Cooking Tips
How to Make Your Cheap Balsamic Vinegar Taste Like a $300 Bottle
In a side-by-side taste test, our expert tasters couldn't tell the "hacked" vinegar from the expensive stuff.
Hannah Crowley

Traditionally produced balsamic vinegar is called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. According to strict guidelines it must be aged for at least 12 years, though the most coveted bottles are aged for decades. This long resting period makes the vinegar gorgeously rich and complex—and really expensive, upwards of $300 a bottle.

(ATK subscribers can read the results of our high-end balsamic vinegar and supermarket balsamic taste tests.)

I was fortunate to try a drop from one of these very old bottles once. My ATK coworker was conducting a tasting of a hack where you replicate the "aged" taste of balsamic vinegar. We tried the hacked vinegar side by side with the decades-old stuff in a blind taste test.

Guess what? I guessed the wrong bottle. I picked the fake stuff as being the expensive sample. Now I’m no expert on balsamic vinegar. I’m certain those with ultrasophisticated palates will have an easier time picking out the hacked sample. But for most of us mere mortals, you can easily make cheap balsamic vinegar taste like one from a $300 bottle—and not tell the difference.

So how do you do it?

The secret is port and sugar. You don't need a lot of each. For the port, I found a bottle at my local supermarket for $16. You need only a tablespoon; feel free to drink the rest at your leisure.

It’s a quick project that produces a velvety reduction more complex than any supermarket balsamic or balsamic reduction. Try it drizzled on fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream, burrata, mozzarella, tomato and basil, pizza—the list goes on. I might even buy some pretty glass containers and make a big batch to dole out as holiday gifts next year. I hope to try more of the real-deal stuff someday, but until then I’ll be keeping a jar of the hacked version on hand. 

Instant "$300" Balsamic Vinegar

  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon port

Combine vinegar, sugar, and port in small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat and cook until reduced by half and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely before using. Store in airtight container. Enjoy like a fancy pants.

Photo: tenzinsherab, Getty Images

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