Balsamic vinegar is a staple of Italian cuisine made from aging a grape juice reduction in oak barrels. Balsamic vinegar is considered a healthy alternative to salad dressings, and for years studies have been published praising the positive effects of balsamic vinegar in your diet. However, there also can be negative effects of consuming balsamic vinegar. It has been recorded as causing lead poisoning in two different ways. While extremely rare, these cases have caused some balsamic vinegar companies to post warnings on their labels to warn customers of potential negative effects.
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Naturally Occurring Lead in Grapes
Grapes naturally absorb a microscopic amount of lead from the soil while growing. After water is evaporated from the grapes the concentrate would contain more lead than typical grape juice. Most balsamic vinegars have rough lead level of 35 parts per million. For someone to get lead poisoning she would have to drink 500 to 1,000 cups of vinegar a day. This is enough lead that California has forced manufactures to post a warning, but not enough lead for the FDA to pull the product out of the market.
Cooking Game Meat with Lead Pellets
Rafael Mateo conducted the study "Bioaccessibility of Pb from Ammunition in Game Meat is Affected by Cooking Treatment" in 2007, proving that cooking game meat shot with lead pellets can cause lead poisoning. The study showed meat with four lead pellets still inside the meat cooked in vinegar was enough to cause lead poisoning in a child. The acidity of the vinegar drew the lead out of the pellets and dispersed them evenly into the meat. The same study showed the meat cooked in a non-acidic solution was safe.
Homemade Balsamic Pickeling
Vinegars can be made at home, but there are some risks involved with using the liquid as a pickling solution. Manufactured vinegars are monitored by acidity level. A vinegar that you purchase at a store will have five to eight percent acidity. This is perfect level for using a pickling solution to preserve foods. However, if you make your own vinegar that acidity could drop as low as three percent. This would not preserve your food, and would allow potentially hazardous bacteria to grow.
Negative Verses Positive Effects
While there are potential negative effects of balsamic vinegar, the positive outweighs the negative. Balsamic vinegar is considered much healthier than high fat content salad dressings. A balsamic reduction is an easy and tasty sauce for meat, with no sodium. While it may be possible to get lead poisoning from balsamic vinegar by itself, it is extremely improbable. If used correctly, balsamic vinegar's benefits outweigh the potential harm.