Sambuca is not for the faint-hearted and many people have regrets of early experiences with this alcohol, particularly the burning flame. Being young and dumb, many made mistakes.
Consumed responsibly, it is a pleasant enjoyable drink. Sambuca has many secrets.
Sambuca – Italian pronunciation – Sam’bu:ka- is an anise-flavored, Italian, normally colorless, liqueur. The most common variety is called white sambuca.
Some of the other varieties are black Sambuca – a deep blue color, and Red Sambuca – a bright red color.
When combined with water an ouzo effect is observed. A milky oil-in-water emulsion is formed. This occurs with minimal mixing and is highly stable. This is formed from the anethole in the anise.
Sambuca is a popular digestive. It also has a high sugar content of 350g/liter.
The term is from the Latin word Sambucas, which means elderberry. This is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae.
The word was first used as the name of another elderberry liquor which was created in 1950 by Luigi Manzi in Civitavecchia.
Civitavecchia is an ancient town in the metropolitan of Rome. Manzi’s big discovery was the fine anisette that was “very good for the stomach after a meal”.
He claimed that he named it after the “sambuchelli” watermen who worked between the ischia island and Naples.
Sambuca became a staple of Italy’s “La Dolce vita” culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Angelo Molinari started making the first commercial Sambuca.
A shot of sambuca with seven beans of coffee represents the seven hills of Rome. The normal shot is with one coffee bean. This is called con la mosca. This means “with the fly”.
Sambuca is bottled at a minimum of 38% alcohol by volume. It is flavored with essential oils obtained from star or green anise.
Other spices, such as licorice or elderflower, may be included, but are not required as per the legal definition. Oils are added for a concentration of sugar, flavoring, and pure alcohol.
Star anise is an evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and Southwest China.
How is Sambuca Made?
Sambuca is a liqueur which means it has extra sugar. The other two ingredients are star anise and alcohol. Additional ingredients such as green anise, elderflower, fennel, and licorice may be added.
The process resembles the Akvavit (distilled from grain or potatoes). The only difference is that Sambuca’s ingredients are added as essential oils and Akvavit steeps them in.
Sambuca requires demineralized water heated to around 150F and is combined with sugar to produce a syrup. The star anise must be blanched after that is done it is crushed and put through steam distillation to extract its essential oils.
The ingredients are combined and left in a large steel tank for a week. The Sambuca is then filtered at room temperature. Other ingredients such as raspberries and cherries may be added.
Nutrition facts and Alcohol Content
The ABV range varies from 38-42%. Notably, 38% is the legal minimum and is the most common. When drank as a shot, small quantities (37-44ml) are consumed.
There are approximately 100 Calories in a shot of Sambuca, most of which are carbohydrates. Sambuca contains around 350g of Sugar.
Sambuca is gluten-free.
What types of Sambuca do you get?
Some brands of Sambuca may have a variety of flavors which include apple, raspberry, banana, or even coffee.
White Sambuca is a traditional anise liqueur. It is prepared to a classic recipe without adding any other ingredients. These include Inferno, Casoni and Vaccari.
Red Sambuca is obtained by adding extracts from fruit and berries to the traditional recipe. After a sip of this, a fruity aftertaste is felt in the mouth. Brands include Antica, Luxard, and Molinari.
Black Sambuca is a rich dark color. It is achieved by adding licorice and other spices. Experts consider the taste of black Sambuca to be the most sophisticated. Brands include Antica, Molinari and Vaccari.
What does Sambuca taste like?
The flavor can be described as being licorice with hints of anise. The flavor is smoother than the taste of whisky or vodka, but many people find it too intense for their taste.
The original recipe consists of ingredients of elderflower, anise, and licorice roots.
Can you freeze sambuca?
Sambuca’s high alcohol content prevents it from freezing, making it an ideal after-dinner drink. Even at temperatures as cold as -20f, sambuca will only partially freeze.
If Sambuca freezes in a home freezer there is likely water in the bottle.
What is the difference between Sambuca and Ouzo?
The difference between Sambuca and Ouzo is that Ouzo is a Greek drink with an aniseed flavor and sambuca is an Italian liqueur. Ouzo is an aperitif and Sambuca is a digestive drink.
Sambuca can be served neat, on the rocks, or with water. It could also be consumed after coffee as an ammazzacaffè. Ammazzacaffè is a small glass of liqueur that is consumed after coffee. This is to dull the taste of caffeine after a big meal.
The Sambuca may also be used in place of sugar to produce a Caffe corretto. This is when a few drops of Sambuca are added to an expresso.
Traditionally a shot of sambuca is served with three coffee beans. Each of these beans represents health, prosperity, and happiness. A shot may be ignited with the coffee beans. The flame must be extinguished before drinking.
Sambuca can also be consumed as a flaming Sambuca. This is done by lighting a shot of Sambuca and leaving it to burn for about 8 seconds.
The flame is then covered by a hand to kill the fire. Flames should be inhaled underneath the hand and then it should be drunk as a shot.
The whole setting it on fire tradition comes from the “with the fly” It is meant to toast and slightly caramelize the coffee beans. Take care when trying this, it is risky business.
Mixers with Sambuca
If not taken as a neat shot, many mixers work well with Sambuca. Here are some of the more popular options:
- Club soda
- Tonic Water
- Lemon-limeme soda
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- Orange juice
- Sparkling wine
Sambuca Price & Brands?
Sambuca is relatively cheap. The average price is between $25 and $50 per 750ml bottle.
Brands and prices
|Antica Sambuca coffee||750ml||$22.99|
Top ten brands of Sambuca
There are many popular Sambuca brands but these are the most favored:
- Molinari Sambuca Extra
- Luxardo Sambuca dei Cesari
- Meletti Anisetta & Sambuca
- Antica Sambuca
- Romana Sambuca
- Antica Black Sambuca
- Borghetti Sambuca
- Lazzaroni 1851 Sambuca
- Di Angela Sambuca
- Romana Black Sambuca
How long does Sambuca last?
The shelf life is indefinite. A bottle of Sambuca can last a long time once opened. It may lose some of its flavors if kept open and exposed to oxygen. Sambuca is best kept in the freezer.
If it develops an off flavor, odor, or appearance, it should be discarded.
Sambuca caught the eye of Frank Sinatra. He wrote a letter to the Molinari family declaring his love for Molinari Sambuca.
Molinari’s recipe called for the best of the best, and thus the Italian government recognized it as the only Sambuca brand that can use the word “Extra” after its name.