If you have perused the isles of your local supermarket in the last few months you have most likely come across a startling label which has founds its way onto many products such as wines and balsamic vinegar.
If you have perused the isles of your local supermarket in the last few months you have most likely come across a startling label which has founds its way onto many products such as wines and balsamic vinegar. The label hails as a cautionary warning from Proposition 65, the California consumer safety law, which requires products which contain potentially hazardous components to declare the toxic components inside; the same advisory warning found in gas stations and even buildings which ostensibly contain poisonous substances.
One should note however that even if a product falls under the discretionary warnings of Prop. 65, the item in question may not necessarily be harmful. The proposition is designed to alert to potentially harmful presences - even in trace quantities- not unquestionably deadly ones.
In the case of balsamic vinegar, the toxic element being warned against is lead, a notoriously hazardous and lethal chemical if ingested or even inhaled. Scientific research (and speculation) has two theories on the nature of contaminated vinegars. Some argue that lead occurs naturally in California soil and is infused chemically through the cell membrane of plants and other agricultural products when harvested. Vinegar, a derivative of grapes will subsequently possess trace amounts of lead if tested. Others conjecture that through distillation, lead enters the vinegar because of contaminated machinery and storage equipment.
California isn't the only region experiencing difficulties with contamination; even quality Italian balsamic vinegar has been observed to carry trace amounts of lead. Although the discretionary label (in regard to Prop. 65) does leave room for a 1,000 degree margin of error, many consumers are searching for alternatives. Both apple and rice vinegar are recommended, as they are free from lead contamination. However, one who intends to substitute white vinegars (such as rice wine) for the traditional balsamic counterparts should note that white vinegar has more acetic acid as it is made through fermenting pure alcohol. Since it is not aged, white vinegars lack the savory or flavorful qualities of red vinegars. A cook should keep this in mind before substituting his entire kitchen for balsamic vinegar equivalents.
Despite the unsettling label, consumers still continue to purchase red wine California vinegar, and it is still regularly used by professional chefs in restaurants across the country. Keep in mind that the average person would have to consume 1 to 2 cups of balsamic or red wine vinegar per day, to reach the Prop. 65 lead level minimum threshold, which includes a 1000-fold safety margin. Most agree the consumer is safe!