Top Pick Of The Week

March 15, 2011

Grilled Tuna

Complimentary to both sweet and savory foods, saba can be drizzled over just about anything. Photo by Alberto Gagna | IST.

WHAT IT IS: A sweet cooking and garnishing syrup from ancient Rome: the father of balsamic vinegar.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: It isn’t made from wine, so it doesn’t have the acidity of a vinegar product.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Another easy way to add exciting flavor to just about any dish, sweet or savory.
WHERE TO BUY IT: See products below.

.Saba, Sapa Or Vin Cotto: Balsamic Vinegar’s Dad

CAPSULE REPORT: Saba was a favorite condiment  in ancient Rome, for adding sweetness to recipes.*

*Crystallized sugar was created in India around the fifth century C.E., but was not affordable in Europe for another ten centuries.

The predecessor of balsamic vinegar, which overtook its parent in popularity, it’s time that we rediscovered saba.

Sapa was the original Roman name. Its contemporary regional names in Italy include saba (in Sardinia), mosto d’uva cotto (in Emilia Romagna) and vin cotto (in Sicily). Balsamic vinegar is a relative newcomer, invented in the 11th century. (It is speculated that balsamic came about by aging saba in vinegar barrels - making saba the father of balsalmic vinegar.)

So what is this saba/sapa/vin cotto/mosto d’uva cotto?

It is a condiment made from boiled grape must,† the unfermented juice from pressed grapes. You can’t call it a vinegar, because it isn’t made by fermenting grapes into wine. Each region makes its product from its own blend of local grapes.

Vinum mustum, Latin for “young wine,” is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace, comprising up to 23% of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in wine making. Because of its high glucose content, typically from 10% to 15%, can also be used as a sweetener.  Must is not to be confused with grape juice, which is filtered and pasteurized.

The must is slowly reduced for 24 hours until it reaches a syrupy texture; then aged in wooden barrels for up to a year. What emerges is a thick, sweet cooking syrup for savory and sweet foods.

Watch out when you see terms like “balsamic saba.” There are too many people hawking their saba as balsamic vinegar—“the original balsamic vinegar.” Balsamic is a vinegar made with must.  There is no vinegar in saba, just must (fresh grape juice). While “vin cotto” means cooked wine, it contains no alcohol.

What can you do with saba? What can’t you do with it! Join us on the the next page. Before you click away, take a peek at the article index below.


THE NIBBLE has been reviewing the finest foods in America since 2004.
Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories. Product reviews are by a unanimous vote of our Editorial Committee. We do not accept placement fees: All products have earned their way into our webzine due to excellence.

Saba Simpatico

Saba dressing from Leonardi. The great balsamic producer gets our thanks for not calling saba “balsamic.” More information.

Saba from Terra Sonoma. This excellent California producer also  makes our Top Pick Of The Week verjus. More information.

Saba San Giacomo. ChefShop has this saba specially bottled for them in Italy; but errs in calling it “vinegar.” More information.


This is Page 1 of a two-page review. Click on the black links to visit other pages:


Continue To Page 2: How To Use Saba/Vin Cotto

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