Vinegar is a liquid that is made from ethanol, a type of alcohol produced from fermented fruit or grains, that is then further allowed to sit and ferment until it becomes acidic. Balsamic vinegar is a specific type of vinegar that is made from grapes that are cooked down into a thickened concentrate known as "must." The must is then aged in a wooden container until it becomes dark-colored with a syrupy texture. White balsamic vinegar is a version of traditional balsamic vinegar that is lighter in color and is primarily used as an ingredient in recipes that are intended to maintain a light color.
White balsamic vinegar is made in a process that is somewhat different than traditional balsamic vinegar. To maintain its light color, a concentrate made of white grapes is generally used as the basis of the vinegar. While traditional balsamic vinegar is aged in wooden containers that infuse the product with a hint of flavor and dark color, the white version is often aged in stainless steel containers to prevent any discoloring. Traditional balsamic vinegar is also cooked at a higher temperature which contributes to the darkening process, while the white version is cooked at lower temperatures to maintain its light appearance.
The use of white balsamic vinegar as an alternative to traditional balsamic vinegar tends to be for aesthetic purposes only. When traditional balsamic vinegar is used in dishes, its dark color will affect the appearance of other ingredients. The white version of the vinegar is often selected as the vinegar of choice for flavoring cream sauces or other light colored dishes when the chef does not wish to have the dish darkened in any way.
White balsamic vinegar may be less commonly selected over traditional balsamic vinegar for taste reasons, although taste differences between the two vinegars tend to be subtle. The white version of balsamic vinegar is generally considered to have a milder and slightly sweeter taste than the traditional version. Some may prefer the mild taste if they find traditional balsamic vinegar overwhelming or if they plan to use it as a main ingredient, such as in a salad dressing.
Critics of white balsamic vinegar typically dismiss the product as not technically being a balsamic vinegar. They tend to believe this because its production process does not fit the traditional criteria for vinegars to be considered balsamic. Balsamic vinegars are often aged for years, while the white version is usually is aged for a much shorter period of time.