Meet saba, balsamic's gentle cousin

 Duck breast with grapes and saba

Remember when balsamic reductions were all the rage? Now there's a new trend featuring an ingredient that is a close relative of balsamic vinegar. Food Republic reports on the growing popularity of saba, a cooked grape juice product.

Saba is made from wine grapes, and is part of the balsamic vinegar making process. It was traditionally made as a sweetener when the grape harvest was particularly bountiful. The resulting grape syrup is fermented to produce balsamic, which is then aged from 12 to 100 years. Due to the long aging process, balsamic is quite expensive whereas saba is more reasonably priced. 

Although it often known as "poor man's balsamic," some chefs, like Soho House Chicago sous chef Gerad Gobel, argue that saba can be just as complex and interesting as the aged product. Gobel has experimented with making his own saba from Cabernet grapes he procured from Sonoma Valley, California. "It's surprisingly easy to make if you have access to the right materials," he says.

Saba is at home in both sweet and savory dishes. On the sweet side, chef Dustin Karagheusian adds it to a semifreddo made with Nutella, hazelnuts, olive oil and sea salt. "It has the potential to be a chef's favorite garnish because it's on the sweeter side, but it does have that mild bitterness," he says. Savory uses include chef Walter Pisano's antipasti of Brussels sprouts, saba and caramelized figs. Pisano notes that a little saba goes a long way, and suggests getting an eyedropper to apply it. "All you need is a few drops," he says.

Photo of Duck breast with saba and grapes from Fine Cooking Magazine by Jeanne Kelley

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