Ready to elevate your plating? Learn how to make balsamic pearls and you’ll take your charcuterie boards, cheese platters, and pasta dinners to a new level. Whether you want to make homemade balsamic pearls or simply buy balsamic pearls, this post will tell you everything you need to know about this adorable condiment.
What are balsamic pearls?
Also called gems or Balsamic caviar, Balsamic pearls are prepared by Italian masters of balsamic vinegar. With the texture of caviar, these beautiful jewels are completely plant-based and are not made with gelatin. They are actually quite easy to make at home, though it may require practice.
Effectively, balsamic pearls are little orbs filled with concentrated grape must and Balsamic vinegar. They can also be flavored. Like the jar of Truffle balsamic pearls above or like these deliciously bright pomegranate pearls.
In most cases, agar-agar–plant-based gelatin derived from seaweed–is used to create a pearl-like shape.
How do you use them?
You can use balsamic pearls in almost any application where you want a burst of balsamic flavor. Here are my suggestions:
- Upgrade charcuterie boards or cheese platters with a delicious and fun plant-based condiment. Look for different flavors, like truffle, pomegranate, lemon or stick with a familiar balsamic of Modena or white balsamic flavor.
- Elevate your caprese salads in the summer by scattering a few pearls over the mozzarella.
- Serve on your favorite pasta dish; creamy sauces work especially well with a hint of bright, acidity.
- Up your salad game by dropping a few pearls on top for a bright finish.
- Simply serve with your favorite meat or fish a grilled chicken or fish dinner would benefit greatly from a bright burst of flavor.
I served truffle balsamic pearls on top of a gorgeous squid ink fettuccine with spicy sauce and the end result was pure heaven!
How to make balsamic pearls:
The downside of these gorgeous and fun pearls is that they can be pricey if you’re looking to buy balsamic pearls. They range anywhere from $18–$25 for a small jar. The good news is that you can try to make them at home and you need just a few ingredients and a few tools.
Here’s what you need:
Balsamic vinegar: Of course! The main ingredient. The better quality vinegar, the better the pearls. Try it with a dark Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, or try it with white balsamic vinegar. You could even try this with a flavored vinegar, like champagne vinegar, white truffle vinegar, or peach vinegar!
Agar-Agar: Agar-agar is what will thicken your vinegar. It can be expensive, but try buying it in bulk for the best deal!
Olive oil or extra virgin olive oil: You need a LOT, but you can reuse it after, so don’t worry about wasting it!
Lastly, you need two simple tools: A tall glass or jar (a pint glass will suffice) and a small eyedropper. Make sure your glass is freezer-safe! The extra cold temperature on the oil is what causes the agar-agar to form a “skin” around the balsamic vinegar and creates the “popping”!
First, fill the pint glass with 1 cup of oil. Transfer to the freezer for 30–45 minutes. You don’t want the oil to solidify but you do need it to be very, very cold.
Next, cook 1 teaspoon agar-agar and 1 cup vinegar. About 10 minutes before you remove the oil from the freezer, cook the vinegar and the agar-agar. Combine them in a small pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Stir frequently and once the agar-agar is fully dissolved, remove from the stove and let cool for 5–10 minutes.
Now, make your homemade balsamic pearls! Fill the eyedropper with the balsamic mixture and carefully drop, one at a time, directly into the cold oil. Be sure to use steady pressure. You’re not a machine, so they won’t be completely perfect but try to use the same pressure for every droplet as much as possible. As the drops float to the bottom of the glass, they will transform into balsamic caviar!
Separate the pearls from the oil. The last step is simply to separate the pearls from the oil. You can reuse the oil, so pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Keep the oil in an airtight container to reuse it later. Store the pearls in an airtight container for 1–2 weeks in the refrigerator and enjoy them with wild abandon!
Tip: If your pearls don’t form the first time, it’s likely because of temperature or that the agar-agar wasn’t fully dissolved in the balsamic vinegar, or that it hadn’t cooled off enough. if you’re worried about the temperature of the oil, you can place the glass in a Tupperware of ice to keep it cold as you make the pearls.
What do you think of balsamic pearls? Do you want to try your hand at homemade balsamic pearls or would you prefer to just buy balsamic pearls?
My verdict: I think it’s a really fun weekend project, but it can be really difficult to make en masse, so I would probably just buy a jar. They are really, really fun to make though!
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Homemade Balsamic Pearls
- Tall glass
- Sieve or strainer
- Small pot
- Large bowl
- 1½ cups olive oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup Balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon agar-agar
Chill the oil:
- Pour the oil into a tall, freezer-proof glass. Transfer to the freezer for 30 minutes. Be careful to not allow the oil to solidify!
Dissolve the agar-agar:
- About 15 minutes before the oil is ready, combine the agar-agar and vinegar in a small pot. Bring to a low boil over medium heat and whisk until completely dissolved. Let cool for 5–10 minutes.
Make the pearls:
- Remove the oil from the freezer. Fill an eyedropper with the balsamic mixture and carefully drop the vinegar into the oil one drop at a time. Continue on until the droplets drop to the bottom of the oil and all of the vinegar has been used.
Strain the pearls:
- Pour the oil through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl and immediately transfer the pearls to an air-tight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1–2 weeks. Reserve the oil for another use. Enjoy!