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The surprisingly recent meteoric rise of balsamic vinegar

This kitchen staple was, until recently, unknown even in much of Italy

Balsamic vinegar is a kitchen regular — dressing up salads and adding flavor to any dish on the menu.

But just 30 years ago, you might not have been able to locate this popular condiment at your local grocery store. For centuries, balsamic vinegar wasn't even well-known in much of Italy. A well-guarded tradition in a small section of northern Italy, the vinegar was valued for its curative properties — the word "balsamic" comes from the Latin word for "balsam-like," or restorative — and was used sparingly.

Balsamic vinegar finally arrived stateside in the 1970s, thanks to a resourceful food importer who put the vinegar on the map — and in the pages of The New York Times. Salads would never be the same again. Listen to the brief but surprising history of this beloved food staple:

Learn more about buying balsamic vinegar, as well as how to instantly age supermarket balsamic. For more on how we became a nation of foodies, check out The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp.

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