How to Make Balsamic Pearls (Balsamic Caviar)

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How to make balsamic pearls (aka balsamic caviar) at home with just 3 ingredients, a tall glass, and a pipette (or syringe)! This vegan caviar is perfect for garnishing all kinds of dishes!

A little bowl with balsamic caviar

When you hear the words ‘molecular gastronomy’, you probably think of smoke machines, ‘foams,’ gels, and other tricky and complicated sounding techniques. Now I can’t say much for those but what I do know is that ANYONE can make these easy balsamic pearls (aka balsamic caviar) at home with just a few simple ingredients and a super simple method!

Balsamic vinegar over tomato mozzarela salad

These sweet and sour pearls are filled with concentrated balsamic vinegar flavor – unlike when you just drizzle the vinegar over a dish there’s no ‘watering down’ this balsamic. Not only do they taste great, but they look amazing too – like little black caviar on top of your dish of choice. Get these balsamic vinegar pearls going and you’re sure to impress family and guests!

What You Need

Vinegar caviar ingredients
  • Balsamic vinegar: I love to use balsamic for its dark color and fruity, tangy flavor. However, feel free to use the vinegar of your choice (like apple cider vinegar). In fact, this method will work with all sorts of liquids: sauces, juice, dressings, etc. – but I’m still in the testing phase, right now.
  • Agar-agar: this is the magic ingredient (100% vegan!) that transforms the vinegar into wonderful, popping pearls. When combined with the vinegar and then dropped into super-cold oil, the agar will help the vinegar to form an outer ‘skin’ that transforms them from liquid to liquid-filled pearls.
  • Olive oil: don’t worry, you can re-use the olive oil after using it to create these pearls so there’s no waste! Other oils like sunflower oil work too, so choose something you know you will use (as a salad dressing or for cooking). Don’t use coconut oil.
  • Tall glass: for dropping the vinegar into when creating the pearls.
  • Pipette/dropper: or a syringe (without the needle), though I find it harder to control the pressure when using that. A pipette will form small, equal pearls. You could also use a ‘sauce bottle’ for bigger pearls.

How to Make Balsamic Pearls?

First, fill a tall freezer-friendly glass with olive oil and place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Don’t freeze it for too long or the oil will solidify – but it needs to be cold enough that the balsamic vinegar will transform into pearls before reaching the bottom of the glass.

A tall galss with olive oil

When the oil is almost ready, then add the balsamic vinegar and agar to a pot, stirring well. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat stirring to make sure the agar-agar is fully dissolved within the vinegar.

Once the mixture boils then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes.

Steps for heating up vinegar and agar-agar

Remove the oil from the freezer and fill your pipette/syringe with the balsamic mixture. With steady pressure, slowly drop droplets of the vinegar into the cold olive oil and you should see it turn to pearls in front of your eyes.

Continue to do this until you’ve used all your balsamic. Don’t worry about making some larger than others – this is normal. If you’re wanting perfectly even results, then you can always carefully sort them later.

Making vinegar caviar

Once you’ve used all the vinegar, drain then from the olive oil. I do this by pouring the oil through a sieve into another clean container. Alternatively, you can use a small, slotted teaspoon.

Draining balsamic pearls from the oil

 You can then transfer the balsamic caviar to a small container of water to ‘rinse’ them before using them – or leave the oil on them. After all, oil and vinegar are wonderful accompaniments for all kinds of appetizers and salads.

If they’re clumped up in the water, don’t worry, just give them a little stir and they should come apart without bursting.

How to Use/Store Balsamic Pearls

Balsamic vinegar is slightly sweet with a ‘fruity’ element to its sharp tang that makes it a wonderful pairing will all sorts of salads, appetizers, and veggie dishes.

This balsamic caviar simply provides a more ‘elevated’ aesthetic for adding the balsamic to your dish of choice. More so, by being contained in the pearls, you bite into delicious, concentrated bites of the flavor. They’d taste lovely with this Caprese salad, for example, or sushi, like this fruit sushi or cucumber sushi

Balsamic caviar in a little container

Once prepared, transfer the balsamic pearls to a clean container and they should store fine in the refrigerator for up to a week (possibly up to 2 weeks). I tend to use them immediately, so I don’t know an exact shelf-life.

Other Tips

  • If the droplets don’t form or are deformed when dropping into the oil you’ve hit one of three problems: 1) the agar wasn’t fully dissolved in the vinegar, 2) & 3) either the balsamic wasn’t allowed to cool down enough or the oil wasn’t cold enough. Either of these being off means that the pearls don’t have time to form and set before the vinegar hits the bottom of the glass.
  • The oil: you could use vegetable oil instead of olive oil.
  • If you plan on doing a large batch of balsamic caviar, rest the container of oil within an ice bath, to keep it cool.
  • What do they taste like? The balsamic pearls will, no surprises here, taste like balsamic vinegar. The agar doesn’t really affect the flavor at all. It’s basically just the vinegar in jelly form and 100% vegan!
  • Agar-agar is available to purchase in some health food stores, Asian stores, and online! It is a good vegan replacement for gelatin and is derived from seaweed.
Hands showing balsamic caviar

Other Agar Agar Recipes

Agar Agar is used a lot within vegan cuisine as an alternative to gelatin and for textural reasons. Here are just a few of the ways I have previously used it.

How to Make Balsamic Pearls (Balsamic Caviar)

5 from 16 votes
By: Samira
How to make balsamic pearls (aka balsamic caviar) at home with just 3 ingredients, a tall glass, and a pipette (or syringe)! Perfect for garnishing all kinds of dishes!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 24 teaspoons caviar

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 g agar agar
  • 2/3 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil or vegetable oil

Instructions 

  • Fill a tall freezer-friendly glass with olive oil ad place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Don’t freeze it for too long or the oil will solidify – but it needs to be cold enough that the balsamic vinegar will transform into pearls before reaching the bottom of the glass.
  • When the oil is almost ready, add the balsamic vinegar and agar to a pot, stirring well. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat stirring to make sure the agar-agar is fully dissolved within the vinegar.
  • Once the mixture boils then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
  • Remove the oil from the freezer and fill your pipette/syringe with the balsamic mixture. With steady pressure, slowly drop droplets of the vinegar into the cold olive oil and you should see it turn to pearls in front of your eyes.
    Continue to do this until you’ve used all your balsamic. Don’t worry about making some larger than others – this is normal. If you’re wanting perfectly even results, then you can always carefully sort them later.
  • Once you’ve used all the vinegar, drain then from the olive oil. I do this by pouring the oil through a sieve into another clean container. Alternatively, you can use a small, slotted teaspoon.
  • You can then transfer them to a small container of water to ‘rinse’ them before using them – or leave the oil on them, after all, oil and vinegar are wonderful accompaniments for all kinds of appetizers and salads. If they’re clumped up in the water, don’t worry, just give them a little stir and they should come apart without bursting.

How to Store

  • Once prepared, transfer the balsamic pearls to a clean container and they should store fine in the refrigerator for up to a week (possibly up to 2 weeks). I tend to use them immediately, so I don’t know an exact shelf-life.

Notes

  • If the droplets don’t form or are deformed when dropping into the oil you’ve hit one of three problems: 1) the agar wasn’t fully dissolved in the vinegar, 2) & 3) either the balsamic wasn’t allowed to cool down enough or the oil wasn’t cold enough. Either of these being off means that the pearls don’t have time to form and set before the vinegar hits the bottom of the glass.
  • The oil: you could use vegetable oil instead of olive oil.
  • If you plan on doing a large batch of pearls, rest the container of oil within an ice bath, to keep it cool.
  • What do they taste like? The balsamic pearls will, no surprises here, taste like balsamic vinegar. The agar doesn’t really affect the flavor at all. It’s basically just the vinegar in jelly form.
  • Agar-agar is available to purchase in some health food stores, Asian stores, and online! It is a good vegan replacement for gelatin and is derived from seaweed. 
Course: Condiment, DIYs
Cuisine: Molecular
Freezer friendly: No
Shelf life: 1 Week

Nutrition

Serving: 1teaspoon, Calories: 6kcal, Carbohydrates: 1g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 1g, Sodium: 2mg, Potassium: 9mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Calcium: 2mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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13 Comments

    1. Hi Natalia,
      Once prepared, transfer the pearls to a clean container and store them in the refrigerator for about 1-2 weeks.

  1. Could I use the thicker balsamic vinegar also or pomegranate molasses? Would I need to dillute it before?

    What about making popping bobba with oil? Creating olive oil or any other kind of really flavourful oil popping balls?

    1. I want to make balsa pearls but could I use gelatine instead please let me know,
      Thank you from Australia x

      1. Hi Bruna,
        I haven’t tried gelatin but some people have successfully made the pearls with powder gelatin. Keep in mind that the pearls can’t be heated if you use gelatin. I hope you give it a try.

      2. No. This won’t work with gelatine. It’s the particular setting qualities of agar and the fact that it doesn’t melt at room temp that make agar pearls a ‘thing’.

  2. This would be great, but I can’t use agar-agar. Have you ever tried making these with gelatin? I know agagr-agar is stronger, so more would be needed. Also, is this where you’d use your good olive oil?

    1. Hi Laurie,
      I haven’t tried gelatin but some people have successfully made the pearls with powder gelatin. Keep in mind that the pearls can’t be heated if you use gelatin.
      As for the oil – you can use whatever you have at hand – you can re-use it after, so no worries if you use your good one. You can also use vegetable oil. I hope this helps.

    1. Hi Pam,
      It was small, sorry not sure of “size”.
      You could use whatever you have at hand – even a squeeze bottle if the opening is not too big, or a pastry bag/piping bag.