Italian grape syrup saba used in many ways, including balsamic vinegar

By Hanna Raskin, The Post and Courier

Saba (SAH-buh)

A type of “vin cotto,” or cooked wine, saba is made from Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes thinned from the vines before harvest. The method of slowly heating freshly pressed grape juice, or must, so as not to burn its sugars dates back to the Roman era.

The resulting condiment is sweet and viscous: Dave Pasternack of New York City’s Esca told Serious Eats’ Ed Levine that he thinks of saba as the Italian version of maple syrup.

Saba is often brushed on cheese, poured over ice cream, stirred into sauces and, in its native Italy, mixed with soda water for a summer drink. But saba’s greatest culinary contribution may be the role it played in the creation of balsamic vinegar. As cookbook author Lynne Rosetto Kasper told The New York Times, “The syrup might have been stored in vinegar barrels, and that’s how balsamico came about.”

Although the syrup is known as saba in Emilia-Romagna, the birthplace of balsamico, Italians elsewhere refer to the condiment as sapa or mosto cotto. Other similar grape-based reductions include Turkey’s pekmez and Palestine’s dibs aynab.

Where else you can try it

Indaco used saba to further sweeten chocolate panna cotta for a Charleston Restaurant Week menu. Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar drizzles saba on its beet salad, and the syrup is in the regular rotation at restaurants including FIG and Lucca.

Where to buy it

Saba is usually found in specialty Italian groceries, but a number of online retailers carry the condiment, including Zabar’s, which sells an 8.45-ounce bottle for $24.98.

Where we saw it

Park Cafe (Mushroom and walnut pate, vegetable crudite, saba, $9)