Substitutes for Wine in Roman Recipes


Romans cooked with wine, but you don’t have to
The majority of recipes in Apicius use wine in some form. Don’t let that keep you from trying to cook like a Roman! Wine serves a number of purposes in a recipe, and there are nonalcoholic substitutes that will accomplish the same thing.

Wine can add flavor, sugar, color, or acidity to a dish. It might be used to add moisture or tenderize meat. It will also “deglaze” a pan by releasing those yummy little bits of whatever you sauté that stick to the pan and caramelize. The following recommendations come from “The Best Non-Alcoholic Substitutes for Red & White Wine” at

Substitutes for red wine:
Red wine vinegar: This is handy for increasing the acidity of the dish and for deglazing a pan.
Grape, pomegranate, or cranberry juice: These juices add flavor to the dish. They are also slightly acidic, so they will help deglaze the pan. For a stronger effect, add a tablespoon of vinegar per cup of juice as well.
Beef, chicken, or vegetable stock: These will add moisture and flavor. Many Roman recipes call for both wine and stock. Adding a tablespoon of vinegar per cup of stock will boost the flavor.

Substitutes for white wine:
White wine vinegar: This is an excellent substitute because it has many of the same flavor components as white wine. It works well to deglaze the pan, too.
Lemon juice: This produces the tangy flavor that white wine give a dish. Its acidity will deglaze the pan, too. Dilute the lemon juice half and half with water to keep it from being too strong.
White grape juice: This gives both the sweetness that comes from white wine and deglazes the pan. If you want a stronger effect, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice per cup of grape juice.
Chicken or vegetable stock: These add flavor. You can boost the flavor by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice per cup of stock.

The longer a dish cooks or the higher the temperature, the more alcohol is evaporated since the boiling point of ethanol (regular drinking alcohol) is 78.4 °C or 173 °F at sea level. (It’s even lower at higher altitudes.) For comparison, water boils at 100 °C and 212 °F at sea level. Table wines that are used for cooking usually have between 8 and 14% alcohol with 10-11% being most common, so very little alcohol remains when cooking is completed.

Fact and Fiction by Carol Ashby