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Sambuca (Italian pronunciation: [samˈbuːka]) is an Italian anise-flavoured, usually colourless, liqueur. Its most common variety is often referred to as white sambuca to differentiate it from other varieties that are deep blue in colour (black sambuca) or bright red (red sambuca). Like other anise-flavoured liqueurs, the ouzo effect is sometimes observed when combined with water.
Sambuca is flavoured with essential oils obtained from anise, star anise, liquorice and other spices. It also contains elderflowers. The oils are added to pure alcohol, a concentrated solution of sugar, and other flavouring. It is commonly bottled at 42% alcohol by volume.
The etymology is disputed: the Molinari company states that the name Sambuca comes from an Arabic word: Zammut. This was the name of an anise-flavoured drink that arrived to the port of Civitavecchia by ships coming from the East. The Oxford English Dictionary states, however, that the term comes from the Latin word sambucus, meaning "elderberry".
The Greek word Sambuca was first used as the name of another elderberry liquor that was created in Civitavecchia about 130 years ago.
The first commercial version of such a drink started at the end of 1800 in Civitavecchia, where Luigi Manzi sold Sambuca Manzi. In 1945, soon after the end of Second World War, commendatore Angelo Molinari started producing Sambuca Extra Molinari, which helped popularise Sambuca throughout Italy.
The most iconic serving of sambuca is a shot with three coffee beans, called con la mosca, which means "with the fly". The three coffee beans are said to represent health, happiness and prosperity, or the Holy Trinity. The shot may be ignited to toast the coffee beans with the flame extinguished immediately before drinking.