You Should Be Eating More Agrodolce. Here's Why

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Sweet and sour sauce is a popular condiment and a generic name for any sauce that delivers sugary and tangy flavors in a gratifying mix all at once. According to Delighted Cooking, Chinese takeout is what people most commonly associate with the sauce, but the dual flavor profile pops up in other types of cuisine as well. Case in point, cranberry sauce is an example of a sauce that takes tart cranberries and complements their acidity with sugar. The same can be said for a sauce made from honey and orange juice, which Southern cooks will tell you makes a great ham glaze. 

However, there is an Italian take on the sweet and sour sauce that you shouldn't sleep on — agrodolce. Per Bon Appétit, agrodolce is a sauce that delivers a high concentration of sweetness (thanks to honey or sugar), and tangy acidity (due to vinegar) with a reduced fruit or vegetable mixture. And best of all, it tastes good on nearly everything.

The history of agrodolce

In Italian, agro means sour, and dolce means sweet, and the traditional version of agrodolce is a simple sauce made up of wine, wine vinegar, and sugar, as reported by Cook's Info. The term itself, though, is derived from French aigre-doux, or bittersweet, and is often paired in Italian with whatever food the sauce is applied to, like peppers or potatoes (via Daily Italian Words). 

Agrodolce is commonly used in Sicilian-style cooking, and though legend has it that Arabs first imported a version of the sweet and sour concoction to Sicily, the Arab taste for agrodolce was merely reinforcing an already existing sauce that has existed since Roman times. According to Fustini's, the Romans, like the Chinese, did not distinguish between sweet and savory categories in their food, and this practice of mixing honey and condensed wine syrups into salty dishes continued well into the Middle Ages through modernity. 

Types and uses of agrodolce

Today, agrodolce is a versatile ingredient used in nearly everything, from a sauce to drizzle over vegetables, as a marinade, or even as a way to add some flavor to sparkling water (via Fustini's). While the most traditional version of agrodolce is a thin sauce made of vinegar, wine, and sugar, there are many variations of the sweet and sour condiment. Since a medley of other ingredients can be added into the mix, from onions to candied fruits to raisins, nuts, olives, chili peppers, chili powder, and even butter, agrodolce can be thick as a relish and chunky, or a runny, well-puréed sauce (via Cook's Info).

As for using agrodolce, it's an excellent sauce to roast vegetables with, from squash to onions to zucchini and eggplant. Grilled meats are equally nicely complimented with a coating of agrodolce, from chicken thighs to pork chops. Per Bon Appétit, "agrodolce isn't a recipe—it's a lifestyle." And with a lifestyle of sweet and sour, one can imagine agrodolce being eaten with cheese or even on fruit. It certainly would be nicely incorporated into a cocktail, and one could easily imagine coating stir-fried tofu in the sauce.

Where to buy agrodolce and alternatives

If you want to buy pre-made agrodolce, a few specialty stores offer unique takes on agrodolce for sale online. Saratoga Olive Oil Co. offers a line of agrodolce sauces made with white balsamic and three flavors: habanero agave, mango coconut, and rosemary garlic. Alpasso Foods offers a bittersweet of Modena, a white grape-based agrodolce that they recommend with fried foods, vegetables, white meats, soft cheeses, and cooked or even raw fish.

However, agrodolce is simple enough to make — it only takes five minutes of prep time and under ten minutes of cooking time (via A Mediterranean Gourmet), and you can usually find the ingredients ready to go in your pantry (vinegar, butter, sugar, and chopped onion). As for substitutes, you can always use classic sweet and sour sauce, though be aware that many sweet and sour sauces, like Kraft's version, contain high fructose corn syrup and may be less healthy than something you make yourself. Duck sauce, per The Woks of Life, is another alternative to agrodolce and is made of sweet (apricot preserves, sugar), acidic flavors (rice vinegar, pickled plum), and a bit of soy sauce. But at the end of the day, any combination of sugary and acidic ingredients would work as a substitute. After all, an agrodolce by any other name would just be as sour and sweet.