Verjuice or verjus is the juice of unripe grapes. The names comes from the Old French word “vertjus” meaning, literally, “green juice.” Verjuice is not fermented and was used widely in Medieval and earlier cookery in a similar way to vinegar or wine, especially as a sauce with meat. It is still produced today but is not as widely used. The Italian world for verjuice is agresta and the Spanish word is agraz.
The grapes for verjuice are normally picked late July or August, right before they begin to change color and become softer. Since thinning the grapes is normal at this time of the season, using some of these immature cuttings for their juice means the grapes are not wasted. The same grapes that are used for wine are used for verjuice, and different varieties of grapes produce verjuices with different tastes.
Verjuice was also sometimes made from the juice of other tart fruits, such as crab apples, sorrel, or gooseberries. These verjuice substitutes which were much more sour than true verjuice, and so were only used when the true grape season was over and the supply of true verjuice ran out. Although verjuice could be obtained by anyone with access to grapes, it was also produced commercially, and still is today.
The earliest known use of verjuice in cooking was in ancient Rome, although its use was probably more widespread and it was likely in use anywhere grapes were grown. The Medieval countries of France, Italy, Spain, and Greece used verjuice as their main souring ingredient, more often than vinegar. It was also used further east such as in Turkey and Persia. In Lebanon, verjuice is known as hosrum and in Persian cooking, it is called abgrooreh.
Uses for Verjuice
Verjuice was used in stews, sauces, pickles, salad dressings, or as a simple condiment. It was not only used to season dishes, but also as a cooking medium itself. Verjuice is considered a great way to deglaze pan juices.
One of the main uses for verjuice in France was for mustards, and it was even used in the mustards of Dijon. It was also used often in Burgundy stile ox-tail dishes. Verjuice is less aggressive than either wine or vinegar and had a pleasing flavor of its own, with a sour yet sweet taste, which still hints at wine. Also, unlike vinegar, verjuice becomes milder as it ages. Taillevent, in his 14th century book, Le Viandier, called for verjuice is almost half of his recipes.
Verjuice is still used by cooks in the Mediterranean region and the Aegean region of Turkey. It can be used to replace any sour ingredient and is a great substitute for lemon or vinegar in salad dressings.
Both red and white verjuices are still produced commercially, and they are beginning to make a come back in cocktails. There are a number of good offerings from Napa Valley, such as the white verjuice Fusion Napa Valley Verjuc Blanc. It is also possible to order verjuice from the Perigord region of France. Verjuice my also be available in some Middle Eastern markets.
See also the article on verjuice from Coquinaria.