Guraob is a gastronomic specialty from Samarkand, in southeastern Uzbekistan. It is a liquid condiment made from the juice of unripe grapes. It’s name, which comes from the Tajik language (a variety of Farsi), means “green water” or “unripe water.” Guraob is similar to verjuice, which has been used in European, Turkic, and Arabic cuisines for centuries. The Persian version of verjuice is known as ab-ghooreh. To make guraob, local grapes, often of the taifi and husaini varieties (though others can be used as well), are harvested when they are immature, before they have started to produce sugars. The grapes are ground, the seeds and other solids are separated, and then the juice is usually boiled with the addition of some salt. The cooked juice is put in bottles, which are sealed with clay and then left on the roof of the house in the hot sun for the rest of the summer (temperatures can exceed 40 °C). The bottles are usually glass, but plastic is also used. Though glass has been present in Samarkand since ancient times, it is likely that the vessels for guraob used to be made of ceramic. In any case, the current method dates back at least three centuries. The boiling and salting of the grape juice and sealing of the bottles are important for preventing fermentation, which could yield alcohol or vinegar. However, due to the small amount of air left in the bottles when hey are sealed, and the fact that tiny quantities of air pass through the clay stopper over time, the phenolic compounds in the juice eventually oxidize, and the guraob turns from a pale green to a reddish-brown color. The thing that distinguishes guraob from other variations on verjuice is that it is left in the sun.
Guraob is used to season all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes, from Samarkandi pilaf to achichuk salad, which is made from onions and tomatoes; a mixture of guraob and sliced onion is served as an accompaniment with shashlik (local barbecue) or fried meats. Though they have similar uses, guraob should not be confused with vinegar. In fact, as different kinds of vinegar have become more available, the use of verjuice has declined in many of the cuisines to which it is traditional.
Guraob is at risk for several reasons: It is produced in limited quantities at the household level, not commercially, so its continued production depends on the tradition and associated knowledge being passed to younger generations. Unfortunately, the urbanization of Samarkand has lead to the destruction of household garden plots where people used to grow grapes. Also, when people relocate to large apartment buildings, it becomes much less convenient to put bottles of guraob on the roof to cure in the sun.