The Mysterious Sanguinaccio

Arthur Avenue, the heart of Little Italy in the Bronx, usually bustling with shoppers and tourists was less so this week because of the beginning of Lent. The fish market was busy, but the butcher shops were relatively quiet as meat is off limits to Catholics on Ash Wednesday.

arthur avenue on ash wednesday
Italian food on Arthur Avenue is seasonal, and by seasonal I mean driven by the holidays. Yes, the basis of cooking in Italy is the reliance on fresh ingredients, harvested at their peak, but in Italian-American communities it means having zeppole and sfingi (cream puffs) for the feast of Saint Joseph, fish on Christmas Eve, and, for handful of the old-timers, a pudding called sanguinaccio (pronounced san-gwee-nacho) during Lent. This week, handwritten signs on paper and in chalk popped up around the Arthur Avenue bakeries. They will remain in place until Easter Sunday, and then disappear once again.

Sanguinaccio is not likely to turn up on a dessert menu next to the tiramisu in any Italian restaurant. Mario Batali has a recipe for it online that calls for cocoa powder, chocolate, cinnamon, and pine nuts. Delicious, right? He’s missing one crucial ingredient, though—freshly slaughtered pig’s blood. Yes, even the king of hoof and snout cuisine himself decided to not go all Carrie on us and chose milk to make it thick and creamy instead.


For Italians, there’s no mystery to get past, as the word sangue (blood) is front and center. Everyone I know who has grown up in Italy thinks sanguinaccio is a disgusting, unsanitary thing that only hillbillies from 100 years ago would eat. Indeed, the blood needs to be cooked within 24 hours of slaughtering the pig if it is to be safe. I wondered if the blood had some significance for the Easter season—perhaps the blood of Christ?

I asked a couple of the bakers on Arthur Avenue and each one of them stared me down wordlessly. One replied, “Don’t ask. Eat.” Fortunately, our friend Beatrice at Gustiamo knew the answer.

She explained that late January, February and early March are the months when pigs are slaughtered in the countryside. When a family or a farm kills the pig, it is a time of celebration and feasting. Friends and family are invited to a lunch where the pieces of the pork that cannot be conserved are cooked and enjoyed right away. Sanguinaccio is one of those dishes.


Last year, I described sanguinaccio to a friend, an experienced hunter who immediately wanted to try it. He purchased a frozen cup of it at Morrone Bakery and brought it to a dinner party to share with the other guests. He explains: “The sanguinaccio we had was very delicate, not at all what you’d expect. Lightly sweetened—much less sugar than anyone expected—and only slightly chocolatey.

“The blood didn’t seem to affect the flavor at all. Instead it altered the texture of what one expects from pudding. It was very dense; the blood added a weight to the dish. It was like an extra creamy pudding except in a completely non-dairy, non-whipped way. Very thick, very rich, hearty almost. It was a wonderful contrast to the flavor, which was just a hint of chocolate sweat. At the dinner party, everyone who tried it loved it. But most attendees couldn’t get past the blood factor and left it untouched. Their loss. It really was a treat.”

Sanguinaccio is not common, but if you look hard enough, is found in rural pockets all over Italy. It’s most often associated with Naples and Campania; therefore, it’s not surprising that Arthur Avenue, with so many descendants from the Italy’s south, still shares a love for sanguinaccio. It has morphed into a Lenten tradition but likely won’t be around much longer than the generation who never blinked an eye at the inclusion of pig’s blood.

Then again, sweetbreads are popular, blood sausages are trendy, and baccala, once the most peasanty of all foods, is $12.99 a lb. If you’re interested in trying it, just look for the handwritten signs. Personally, for now, I’m going to pass.

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18 Comments

  1. I was born in north of Italy. I remember visiting relatives in Lucania as a young girl and eating sanguinaccio. It was exquisite …until I was told how it was made. I left Italy in 1956 to come to america. I still think about how good it was. I was thrilled to find information on the net.

  2. By lucky chance I stumbled on some sanguinaccio at Ornella Trattoria in Astoria, Queens and it was pretty great. The owner (Giusseppe Viterale) was giddy when he served it to us – he’d searched all over NYC for his pig’s blood but wouldn’t reveal his source. He hopes to make it a regular item on his dessert menu.

  3. I’m sorry, I’m having a really tough time with this. Blood, really? As much as I like chocolate, I don’t think I could stomach it with blood added. No. Way.

  4. I’m gonna have to go with Sheryl on this one – no pig’s blood for me. Not now, not with chocolate, not ever.

  5. Animal blood used to thicken a pudding or sausage has a long history. Never heard of sanguinaccio and enjoyed the article.
    Grazie mille!

  6. i want to make the Sanguinaccio the old way (with Pig Blood), can anybody send me the recepy. Thank you

  7. I love Arthur Ave. but the pig’s blood pudding, I’m not sure what to make of that. When I lived in Vienna they had a special sausage there, blutwurst, which had quite a bit of blood in it. Just not my thing. Did I miss it though, did you try it then?

  8. I just had the Sanguinaccio at Ornella Trattoria in Astoria, Queens and it was rich and hearty and perfectly chocolaty without being too sweet. With a cappuccino and some amaretto it was a great finish to a very good meal. I made the mistake of telling my wife what it was before she tasted it, so she only had one spoon full. If sge didn’t know what it was i think she would have wolfed it down.

  9. @keith – my wife knew but still tried it and loved it @ Ornella. Fortunately for me she could not get over the thought of the blood so I got to eat the majority of it. Soooo good!

  10. Heres how we make this traditional Italian cream in PatagoniaArgentina.Put into a iron pot two litres of milk, two litres of fresh blood,about one pound of dark chocolate very well grind, one pound of sugar.Stirr nonstop in low fire for about 2 hours. You may add pine nuts.Finally its a heavy cream, but we use it warm on pasta, not as a dessert. Because during the week in which we kill the pigs, we eat meat everyday. Tip 1: Never boil!!! Tip 2: Fire from wood gets better results. Best regards for all.

  11. thank you this is a fond thoughts of my being a kid in South Brooklyn and I could not wait till that time of the year to have some man I miss brooklyn of the 50’s a friend who dad own a bakery told me about making when he was a kid I have been a vagan for a couple of years but that might make me go off and feel bad but smiling about the taste and my childhood

  12. I was born in “The Bronx”. March 27, 1929. Everyone that meets me think that I’m in my late 50’s or 60’s. I keep in shape by using Charles Atlas (who was Italian) work-out. Getting back to the subject. Sanginaccio was a Southern Italy food. My family was from Abruzzo and Rome. After we moved to So. California, we raised rabbits, lambs, etc. and every time we killed one to eat, we cooked the blood. Mom would make a very tasty dish with all Italian spices, etc. So cooking the blood was a very common thing in Italy.
    Ciao, Saluti ‘a tutti le Italian al mondo.
    Frank

  13. I remember helping my mom make sanguinaccio when we lived in Italy. it was delicious. She used chocalate, walnuts and mosto cotto . She bought the fesh blood from a farmer friend of hers. My mom is gone but my memories of the saguinaccio still lives on.

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