Strawberry Balsamic Sauce Recipe

Bright, fruity, with a mellow tartness and sweetness, this sauce is perfect for topping ice cream and pound cake or adding to a savory vinaigrette.

A bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry balsamic sauce.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Why This Recipe Works

  • Reducing the balsamic vinegar before adding the strawberries tames its acidity, allowing the fruit to shine.
  • A pinch of lemon zest perks up the fruity flavor of the sauce.

Strawberries have been, and likely always will be, my favorite fruit. I'm all too content with the constant supply of inexpensive, ripe, and deliciously sweet strawberries that early summer season brings with it. I can feel the tides turning, though—as my wife brings home each new package, I find myself sitting and picking through the lot to find the extra plump and juicy fruit, leaving the comparatively flavorless specimens for someone with less forethought.* With those less-than-stellar berries becoming more and more numerous, I wanted to find a way to preserve the best of the best in a sauce that will keep me enjoying the harvest in an array of different dishes.

*This is quite the confrontational practice when taking the cream of the crop from the person actually buying the strawberries, and even worse when that person is your significant other.

My first (and best) thought was a strawberry balsamic sauce. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar over a pile of sliced fresh strawberries is a fantastic summertime treat. The rich vinegar adds a contrasting tartness that only seems to draw out the sweet flavor of the berries even more. It turned out, though, that when trying to wed the two in a more formal sauce, the right balance between sweet and tart was trickier than expected.

Diced strawberries are stirred in a saucepan with balsamic vinegar and sugar.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

I started off with what I assumed would be a no-brainer—balsamic, hulled and diced strawberries, and little sugar, simmered together until thick and syrupy. In theory, this worked, but the tartness of the vinegar overwhelmed the strawberries, and while adding more sugar fixed the problem, it also took away from the natural fruity sweetness I was after.

So I went back and tried again, this time using less vinegar and swapping out the white sugar for dark brown sugar, whose deeper sweet molasses flavor I thought would add more body while requiring less actual sugar. I was right with the brown sugar—this was an improvement over the first batch—but even in small amounts, the balsamic was still diminishing the fresh strawberry flavor.

Then I had an idea. What about reducing the balsamic before adding it into the mix? A balsamic reduction—made by simply simmering balsamic vinegar until thick and syrupy—both intensifies the sharp flavor of the vinegar, while sweetening it up a bit as well. This worked like magic; this next iteration of the sauce had the exact balance of sweet, tart, and fruity I was after. But I still felt like it was missing a brightness that would really round it out.

Several versions of strawberry balsamic sauce in ramekins, ready for a taste comparison.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Lemon juice seemed to fit the bill, but that just threw off the acidity once again. So to get that bright flavor without the excessive tartness, I added a pinch of lemon zest to my last batch of the sauce and was finally able to declare it pretty damn near perfect.

Bright, fruity, with a mellow tartness and sweetness, this strawberry balsamic sauce is ready for a multitude of uses. Desserts are the most obvious—it makes an excellent topping for vanilla ice cream or spread on warmed pound cake. It can have more savory uses too, though, like mixed into yogurt or whisked with olive oil to make a tasty vinaigrette. No matter what the use, I can take comfort in the fact I have a batch sitting in the fridge, which will extend the joy of prime summer strawberry season for me for at least another week or two.

July 2013

Recipe Details

Strawberry Balsamic Sauce Recipe

Active 25 mins
Total 25 mins
Serves 12 servings
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Bright, fruity, with a mellow tartness and sweetness, this sauce is perfect for topping ice cream and pound cake or adding to a savory vinaigrette.


  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

  • 2 cups ripe strawberries, stemmed, hulled, and roughly diced

  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon zest


  1. Bring balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until vinegar has thickened and reduced to 1/4 of its original volume, 5 to 10 minutes.

    Balsamic vinegar simmering in a saucepan.

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

  2. Stir in strawberries, sugar, salt, and lemon zest. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until strawberries have released their juices and softened, about 5 minutes.

    The strawberries, sugar, and zest are added and simmered.

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

  3. Using the back of a wooden spoon, crush strawberries against side of saucepan. Continue to simmer until sauce has thickened and is syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature, then use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to a week.

    Author crushes the simmered fruit with a wooden spoon against the side of the saucepan.

    Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
26 Calories
0g Fat
6g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 26
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 29mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 17mg 85%
Calcium 9mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 59mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)