Monday, April 28, 2014

Balsamic Vinegar and Antioxidants

At a recent program I presented on herbal teas curative properties, I was discussing with the participants antioxidants and why we should consume as many as possible.  We discussed herbal supplements which I tend to avoid for consuming the herbs naturally instead. The very next day I ran across an incomplete blog post on the health benefits of balsamic vinegar.

Found in salad dressing, chips and pickled foods, it seems like we just can’t get enough vinegar. With so many varieties and an endless number of uses, it's understandable why we love vinegar. If flavor alone isn't enough, vinegar also packs a handful of healthful benefits. We know the benefits of apple cider vinegar and herbal vinegar on our health, but what about its cousin balsamic vinegar?

What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from the juice of white grapes. The juice is cooked down to a concentration. During this process the sugar in the juice starts to darken, or caramelize, causing the dark color of balsamic vinegar. Like wine, the vinegar is then fermented and undergoes a slow aging process in wooden barrels. The minimum aging period is 12 years; some can age for as long as 25 years.

Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
1- Antioxidants. Fight against free radicals with antioxidants — the same type found in found in red wine. Research has found that balsamic vinegar could decrease the oxidation of “bad” cholesterol and help prevent plaque formation in arteries.
2- Improves blood pressure. Research has found that foods high in antioxidants, such as balsamic vinegar, may help improve blood pressure by preventing cell damage.
3- Regulates blood sugar levels. Balsamic vinegar may help improve insulin sensitivity. It is also low on the glycemic index and doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar levels. It does, however, contain sugar, and diabetics should pay attention to how much they are using.
4- Immunity support. Antioxidants found in balsamic vinegar repair cell damage and help improve the immune system. By eating more antioxidants your immune system may be able to provide the defense your body needs.
5- Weight control. Balsamic vinegar slows down digestion and helps prevent overeating. Because of it’s natural sweetness it makes a healthy salad dressing and marinade without the use of added sugar.

Uses of Balsamic Vinegar

Dipping whole-grain bread in extra-virgin olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar can be a great light appetizer before a meal.  Or you can go carb-free with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil and a drizzle of balsamic.

Mix balsamic vinegar with extra-virgin olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices for a quick and healthy salad dressing or marinade.

Sweet-tart balsamic vinegar spiked with garlic and Italian seasoning makes a fast and flavorful marinade for chicken. Serve with sliced tomatoes and grilled eggplant slices.
Balsamic vinegar adds a unique taste to sweet desserts. Drizzle balsamic on fresh strawberries.  This is an under-experimented flavor, especially of you like sweet fresh fruit.  Below I have a recipe for Blue Cheese-Stuffed Strawberries. Strawberries, blue cheese and balsamic vinegar combine to create a unique and delightful flavor.

When buying balsamic vinegar it’s important to check the label. Avoid vinegar that has added sugar or color.

Balsamic Bread Dip (makes 12 servings)

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a bottle with a lid, mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, kosher salt, and pepper. Seal bottle, and refrigerate mixture 8 hours, or overnight. Shake well before serving. Store in the refrigerator.

Blue-cheese-Stuffed Strawberries (Adapted from Diabetic Connect)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 ounces fat-free cream cheese
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. snipped fresh chives
16 fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans, toasted
Place vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half. Cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in blue cheese and herbs. Remove stems and scoop out centers from strawberries; fill each with about 2 teaspoons cheese mixture. Sprinkle pecans over filling, pressing lightly. Chill until serving. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Chicken in Balsamic Marinade (serves 4)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 and 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split in half
Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Covered and refrigerated, marinade can be kept for up to 3 days.  Place chicken in a shallow dish or 1-gallon sealable plastic bag. Add the marinade and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. Remove from the marinade and pat dry.
Preheat grill to medium-high or position a rack in upper third of oven and preheat broiler.
To grill: Oil the grill rack. Grill the chicken, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 4 to 8 minutes per side.
To broil: Line a broiler pan (or baking sheet) with foil and coat with cooking spray. Place the chicken on the foil. Broil, watching carefully and turning at least once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, or juices run clear, about 10 to 15 minutes total. 

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