Ask the Diva: Does Balsamic Vinegar Contain Lead?

Certain types of balsamic vinegar may contain more lead than others. Find out more about why balsamic vinegar contains lead and whether you should worry.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
September 21, 2012

Q. I was very surprised recently to notice a warning on my bottle of balsamic vinegar, stating that it contains lead. That seems serious! Is it something that we should be worried about? Are there brands of balsamic vinegar that do not contain lead? What other alternatives are there for salad dressings?

A. It’s true. Balsamic and red wine vinegars do contain trace amounts of lead, probably absorbed by the grapes from the soil in which they are grown or from the wooden barrels in which they are often aged. You probably wouldn’t even know about it if it weren’t for a lawsuit brought several years ago by an environmental group in California. The result of that lawsuit are the warning labels that you now see on balsamic vinegar.

What’s less clear is whether the levels of lead in balsamic vinegar are worth worrying about. Exposure to lead during childhood can lead to learning disabilities or brain damage, which is why we no longer use lead paint. But the amounts of lead in most balsamic and red wine vinegars are quite small. Your child would have to be consuming an awful lot of balsamic vinegar to approach any kind of danger zone.

Certain types of balsamic vinegar—specifically, the aged, expensive types—tend to be higher in lead than others. Other brands, which are listed by name in this report, have been found to be so low in lead that they are not required to carry the California warning label. Or, you could choose a vinegar that’s not made from grapes, such as rice wine, apple, or berry vinegar.

Because I am usually not cooking for small children and consume at most a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar a day (and virtually no paint), lead in vinegar doesn’t make it onto my personal list of “things to worry about.”

For more tips and ideas on homemade salad dressings, see my video, How to Make the Perfect Vinaigrette.

See also: Does Vinegar Burn Fat?

And from The Domestic CEO: How to Use Vinegar to Clean Your Home

Balsamic Vinegar photo from Shutterstock