Does caprese salad have to have balsamic vinegar?

My friend and I are having a dispute: she claims balsamic vinegar is an essential component of a caprese salad; I say BS. Who's right? Wikipedia sides with me, but its source is Joy of Cooking, which I'm not sure is the best source for Italian cuisine.

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SeaJambon
SeaJambon September 4, 2013

Since the real question is about authenticity and the salad has been around since, what, the dawn of time? it seems unlikely that there is only one vinegar that can be used. Unless the folks on Capri only had access to balsamic vinegar (seems unlikely -- I'm guessing they had all types of wine "spoil" just like everyone else, allowing an assortment of vinegars) it seems very inplausible. Not sure you'll find a food historian who can answer this question definitively, so, in the meantime, I'm voting with you. ;)

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Monita
Monita September 4, 2013

The "purest" caprese salad only has olive oil, moz. cheese, tomato and basil. Balsamic is the most common vinegar added.

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Voted the Best Reply!

ChefJune
ChefJune September 4, 2013

As far as i know there is NO vinegar at all in a traditional Caprese salad. It is merely sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

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Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Nancy Harmon Jenkins September 4, 2013

Your friend is wrong, even if Joy is truly not a great source for Italian cooking. (Look to Marcella Hazan for that.) A real insalata caprese would not have aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) and most certainly not aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena (the real, honest-to-god thing). Why? Because, first of all, the made-up aceto balsamico--usually a red wine vinegar to which some caramel may have been added for sweetness--is not considered a "good" thing in Italy, even though it is more widely used than it used to be. As for the real thing, you would NEVER (and if I could underline that word I would) use it on any kind of salad. It is much too precious (and expensive) for that. Beyond which, it is strictly associated with the Po region around Modena and Reggio Emilia and not elsewhere, and Italians still treasure the regionality of their food traditions.
If you think your caprese salad needs a bit of acid, and it might, use a good quality aged red wine vinegar--but just a small amount. When I'm writing recipes I often have to stipulate "vinegar, but not balsamic" in order to get the right flavor. Red wine vinegar can be a miraculous product--and even more useful than any whatever "balsamic."

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pierino
pierino September 4, 2013

I'm in total harmony with Nancy here (as well as an admirer of her books). Real balsamico, not the stuff you buy at the supermarket, belongs to the Padana region of Italy. Sometimes I will use good Spanish Jerez vinegar instead. But the most important components of this plate are tomatoes, the mozzarella buffala, the basil and the olive oil. Wikipedia? If it's on the internet it must be true, right?

miss jane
miss jane September 4, 2013

I think if you like great balsamic vinegar, then use it. But nothing should take away from incredible heirloom tomato flavor.

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jmburns
jmburns September 5, 2013

In an untraditional way I like unseasoned rice wine vinegar.

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WannabeBaker
WannabeBaker September 5, 2013

Thanks for all the feedback, guys! Always good to know you're right on something. I have to admit - I'm not a fan of balsamic vinegar (or at least what I've had - maybe it wasn't a very good example?) so I'm perfectly happy leaving the stuff off my caprese.

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