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Ask Dr. Gourmet

What is the alcohol content of vinegar? What should I use instead?

My guy has been sober for sixteen years and prefers that there is no alcohol in the foods that I make. I do use extracts but never heavily. I have avoided the wine/champagne vinegars, but I wonder about balsamic vinegar and the alcohol content.

I would love to know what to use to make up for the lack of wine vinegar. Some recipes I feel I can interchange, but I really wonder about something like gazpacho, where the flavor is really needed.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Balsamic vinegar being poured into a dish already containing olive oil. Bread is nearby for dipping.

Vinegar is created by converting ethanol (the alcohol that we drink) to acetic acid. As such, there are traces of alcohol in vinegar but a very small amount.

Wine vinegars, such as red or white wine and balsamic vinegar, do start with a dilute wine which is then fermented. Instead of the bacteria fermenting sugars, as happens when the wine is made, bacteria from the acetobacter family use the alcohol (ethanol) in the fermentation process. Most of the alcohol is used up, and much like the extracts you are using, there may be traces of the ethanol remaining. It's not likely to be very much - on the order of between 0.1% and 2%. Consequently, using a tablespoon of white wine vinegar might contain a drop of ethanol.

If you or your guy are concerned and feel that you want to avoid white wine or other vinegars, substituting with another acid might work well in your recipes. Lemon juice or lime juice could be a good choice (the lime juice would be especially good with the gazpacho). If you want a softer citrus note, using Meyer lemons, a bit of grapefruit juice, some pickle juice, or even the brine from capers can be a good choices.

Thanks for writing.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet

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