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Defrutum, carenum, and sapa were reductions of must
Must is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace; it typically makes up 7%–23% of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in winemaking...

 used in Ancient Roman cuisine. They were made by boiling down grape juice or must (freshly squeezed grapes) in large kettles until it had been reduced to two-thirds the original volume, carenum;
half the original volume, defrutum; and one-third, sapa. The main culinary use of defrutum was to help preserve and sweeten wine
Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made of fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, or other nutrients. Grape wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. Yeast...

, but it was also added to fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

 and meat
Meat is animal flesh that is used as food. Most often, this means the skeletal muscle and associated fat and other tissues, but it may also describe other edible tissues such as organs and offal...

 dishes as a sweetening and souring agent and even given to food animals such as suckling pig
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig, its ancestor the wild boar, and several other wild relatives...

 and duck
Duck is the common name for a large number of species in the Anatidae family of birds, which also includes swans and geese. The ducks are divided among several subfamilies in the Anatidae family; they do not represent a monophyletic group but a form taxon, since swans and geese are not considered...

 to improve the taste of their flesh. Defrutum was mixed with garum
Garum, similar to liquamen, was a type of fermented fish sauce condiment that was an essential flavour in Ancient Roman cooking, the supreme condiment....

 to make the popular condiment oenogarum and as such was one of Rome's most popular condiments. Quince
The quince , or Cydonia oblonga, is the sole member of the genus Cydonia and native to warm-temperate southwest Asia in the Caucasus region...

 and melon
thumb|200px|Various types of melonsThis list of melons includes members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae with edible, fleshy fruit e.g. gourds or cucurbits. The word "melon" can refer to either the plant or specifically to the fruit...

 were preserved in defrutum and honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

 through the winter, and some Roman women used defrutum or sapa as a cosmetic
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

. Defrutum was often used as a food preservative in provisions for Roman troops.

Roman use

Defrutum is mentioned in almost all Roman books dealing with cooking
Cooking is the process of preparing food by use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions. Cooks themselves also vary widely in skill and training...

 or household management. Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 recommended that defrutum only be boiled at the time of the new moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

, while Cato the Censor suggested that only the sweetest possible must
Must is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace; it typically makes up 7%–23% of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in winemaking...

 should be used. Bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

, copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 and lead kettles were known to have been in use.

Geochemist Jerome Nriagu published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine
New England Journal of Medicine
The New England Journal of Medicine is an English-language peer-reviewed medical journal published by the Massachusetts Medical Society. It describes itself as the oldest continuously published medical journal in the world.-History:...

 in 1983 hypothesizing that defrutum and sapa may have contained enough leached lead acetate to be of danger to those who consumed it regularly. A 2009 History Channel documentary produced a batch of historically-accurate defrutum in lead-lined vessels and tested the liquid, finding a lead level of 29,000 ppb, a staggering 2,900 times higher than the current US drinking water standards of 10 ppb. These levels are easily high enough to cause either acute lead toxicity if consumed at once in large amounts or chronic lead poisoning when consumed in smaller quantities over a longer period of time (as defrutum was typically used).

However, the use of leaden cookware, though popular, was not the general standard and copper cookware was used far more generally and there is also no indication how often sapa was added or in what quantity. John Scarborough, a pharmacologist and classicist, criticized the conclusions drawn by Nriagu's book as "so full of false evidence, miscitations, typographical errors, and a blatant flippancy regarding primary sources that the reader cannot trust the basic arguments."

Modern day usage

Sapa is no longer widely used in Italy, but survived in common use in the Marche
The population density in the region is below the national average. In 2008, it was 161.5 inhabitants per km2, compared to the national figure of 198.8. It is highest in the province of Ancona , and lowest in the province of Macerata...

region of central Italy until the mid-20th century; it is still produced there today, but as a rarity.

Further reading

  • Ilaria G. Giacosa; A Taste of Ancient Rome; University of Chicago Press; ISBN 0-226-29032-8 (paperback, 1994)
  • Pliny the Elder; Natural History; tr. H. Rackham; Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library); ISBN 0-674-99432-9 (cloth, 1956)
  • Marcus Porcius Cato; On Agriculture ; Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library); ISBN 0-674-99313-6 (hardcover, 1979)