Saba, the magic syrup from Emilia


Back in time…

Vineyards in Italy

Please sit comfortably, close your eyes and try to imagine a warm evening in early September, in the courtyard of an old farmhouse in the green Italian countryside between Modena and Reggio Emilia. Under the starry sky there is a big smoking pot above a bright burning fire. It is  full of seething must: the scent in the air is intense, charming. The closer you get to that unusual pot and the more it wraps you.

Next to the fire there is a young farmer holding a sturdy wooden spoon, that his grandfather has given him for the occasion: slowly, almost with a sort of devotion, he stirs the grape juice so that it becomes sticky, going on for hours and waiting for its loweing, taking away from time to time the foam coming up on the surface. The boiling lasts all night and an infinite variety of aromas spread in the air. At the first light of the morning the embers are extinguished and the dark grape syrup is allowed to cool.

Now  with the new dawn who will put the precious nectar in his old wooden barrels ends the work of an entire night: he takes a small taste with the ladle, driven by the intense and variegated bouquet, brings it gently to his mouth and, loving the goodness of the syrup, exclaims …… “the Saba is ready”.

Ancient pot

Sources written in Roman times report news from Saba syrup.

The rich gastronomic tradition of Emilia offers some products that are certainly less known but likewise precious, such as this syrup, Saba with its own historical roots, a sweet syrup made from cooked grape must which is used to enrich numerous local recipes, especially pastry.

Different types of musts or cooked wines were produced and variously consumed by the ancient Romans: they believed that increasing its density and its concentration (boiling the must for long hours), could gave a better and longer preservation over time. In the Ancient Rome, cooked must was used to enrich meats and other dishes, replacing honey to soften the taste of food and drink or to preserve meat and game. They also used cooked must diluted with water as a sweet energetic drink or as a base to create an “energizing wine“.

How the Saba is made.

Grapes before the September harvest

Although improperly called cooked wine, it is cooked must but it is not yet wine. There are precise rules for its preparation to obtain recognition of protected geographical indication “Saba from Emilia Romagna”. The specification requires that the Saba be obtained with white or black grapes from the TGI, DOC or DOCG areas and that the must used has not started fermentation. Still today as in the past, at the end of summer after harvest, the must is placed in the classic copper pots for cooking. It is a ritual that takes place in the first days of September in many farms near Reggio Emilia and Modena.

Everything becomes magic at night, for the stars up in the sky, but especially for a practical reason: at night, the bees and wasps are gathered in their hives and are unlikely to be attracted by the smells produced by cooking .


The must have be cooked over direct heat for several hours (from about six to ten) until it has reduced, by evaporation. Tradition has it that to avoid the must sticks to the cauldron (it would have a bitter taste of burnt), producers put some glass marbles or some walnuts inside. It is also necessary to proceed with foaming and mixing with a wooden spoon for the whole cooking period. Only when the liquid is reduced by about 2/3 of the total, we will get that thick and very sweet syrup with a unique taste that can be called Saba.

After natural cooling it is also possible to mature in wooden barrels for about six months. Saba is a grape syrup concentrated in a traditional way, without any other ingredient or additive; it is rich in minerals, vitamins and, thanks to its sugar content, it is kept very long.

Healing syrup.

It belongs to the “vinegar family” (even if is not a balsamic vinegar) and also boasts valuable therapeutic properties, particularly appreciated in the past: consumed in the spoon has the ability to reduce heartburn while, if it is mixed in a little hot milk is an excellent adjuvant for the treatment of sore throat and flu symptoms: Saba and chamomile give a great relaxation and sleep.

A mixture of warm water, peppermint and Saba, spread directly on the face skin and kept for a few tens of minutes, gives brightness, freshness and hydration.

Cake with saba

What more?

Do you love cooking or are you or a cake maker?

Discover here the secret of the best Saba under the tab Recipes.

And find out the best italian fonnds on Italian Food Joy.

Have a nice meal!!

Anna Mila

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