Before there were artificial sweeteners and sugar, women on the Croatian coast sweetened their cooking with natural ingredients such as honey, and preparations like the varenik, a thick and delicious sauce made from red grapes. It is believed that varenik dates back to Roman times, and that even the ancient Persians knew about it. It was especially common on the island of Brač and the rest of Dalmatia, where it was prepared every autumn from carefully selected, ripe or even overripe grapes.
Varenik is made from red grape varieties, like the Plavac mali, and its preparation can take up to fifteen hours in order to get a thick brown syrup full of sugar. It was once also made from an old, indigenous variety called Crljenak, but with time, it was replaced with the more common Plavac mali. The ripe berries would first be sun-dried if needed. Handpicked grapes were separated from the stems and inspected so that only the good ones would be further processed. The grapes would then be crushed to get must, which would be gradually boiled at low temperatures until it was reduced to less than a half of the original amount. The result from the boiling was a non-alcoholic liquid that was once used for preparing the well-known Prošek wine. After it cooled off, varenik was poured into bottles and left to sit uncovered, but protected with a gauze.
Since it was rich with sugars, varenik was used as a nutritional supplement and a condiment for cooking. Homemakers used it not only to prepare desserts such as fritule, sponge cakes, cakes and pastries, but also in preparing savoury meals, like the popular pašticada with gnocchi, a stewed Dalmatian speciality made from beef round, characterised by a long period of marinating and cooking, with the addition of various spices, red wine and vegetables. Varenik can also be used in many meat sauces to give them a sweet red wine aroma, and because it neutralises the acidity of tomatoes, a spoon or two of it is also added to dishes such as the fish stew brodetto or salsa.