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Alcohol: In More Foods Than
You May Know

Silver Hill Hospital

Easy Substitutions From Silver Hill Hospital

You would be surprised at the number of packaged and already cooked foods that contain small amounts of alcohol, including many specialty foods found in delicatessen or gourmet shops. Pure vanilla and almond extract, and some brands of Dijon mustard are examples. Marinara sauce with wine, whipped cream and even fruit cake can all pose problems. For many of us this is not an issue. Adding “a little something extra” can make any meal special, especially during the holidays.

However, there are many people who have health reasons for being on an alcohol-free diet. Pregnant women and those on certain medications like antibiotics and antidepressants, for example. Children and teenagers under the age of 21.  Histamines and sulfites in wines can make many allergic.  In addition, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health, alcohol abuse and dependencies are more common than many of us know:

  • 17.6 million people–about l in every 12 adults–abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent in the United States.
  • More men than women are alcohol dependent or have alcohol problems.
  • People who start drinking at an early age–for example, at age 14 or younger–are at much higher risk of developing alcohol problems at some point in their lives compared to someone who starts drinking at age 21
  • Alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18-29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older.

It is not an overstatement to say that even a splash can prove catastrophic for those who need to avoid alcohol, even if accidental. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to be aware when we use it and substitute whenever required. 

Common Myths About Cooking with Alcohol

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not evaporate when heated. Studies have shown that as much as two-thirds of it still exists after 20 minutes of cooking.  The amount of alcohol that burns off depends on the cooking method used and how long the alcohol is cooked. When added after cooking, 100% of the alcoholic content remains. 

Chances are, just leaving alcohol completely out of a recipe will not change the flavor of the food. If it plays an integral part, try to experiment with substitutions. It is possible to come up with a flavorful, alcohol free meal or dessert.

You Are Your Own Best Enforcer

You must take responsibility for your own well-being. It is extremely important to read all labels and ask for a list of ingredients before eating anything you have not prepared yourself – and it is never rude.

Be considerate when entertaining. Always have some alcohol free menu items and drinks available. And so-called “alcohol free” substitutes do not count as they may well contain trace amounts. Foods to look out for, easy-to-find substitutions and a delicious alcohol free punch recipe are included below. 

Foods to Avoid That May Contain Alcohol 

It is critical to read all labels, but as a general rule, it is a good idea to avoid the following ingredients: 

  • Pure or artificial flavor extracts such as vanilla, rum, and almond 
  • Cooking wines
  • Malt vinegar, wine vinegar
  • Some brands of dijon mustard
  • Many sauces such as béarnaise or bordelaise use wine in preparation
  • Fondues
  • Desserts such as liqueur filled chocolates, cherries jubilee, mousse, flambé desserts, some pastries or cakes such as black forest or fruit cake
  • Wine flavored cheeses or pates
  • Non-alcoholic or de-alcoholized beers or wines my contain trace amounts
  • Cooking spray


If the Recipe Calls For

Substitute in equal amounts (usually)

Sweet Sherry

Apple cider


Orange or Pineapple Juice

Brandy Apple cider or Peach Syrup

Grand Marnier/orange flavored liqueur

Unsweetened orange juice concentrate

Coffee liqueur

Coffee made 4-6 times stronger

Other fruit liqueur

Use syrup from canned fruit reduced by boiling


Ginger ale


Juice from peaches or pears                        


Pineapple juice flavored with non-alcoholic almond extract, white grape or apple juice

Alcohol Free Punch Recipe

Sleigh Driver

10 servings, about 1 cup each, 169 calories per serving. Carbohydrate Servings, 3. Exchanges: 1 fruit, 2 other carbohydrates

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes


  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 3 pears, chopped into bite-size pieces, divided
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1 lemon, halved and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons non-alcoholic vanilla extract


  1. Combine water, sugar, ginger and 1 pear in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Strain out the solids and return the mixture to the pan.
  2. Add the remaining pears, cider, lemon and allspice and heat over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
  3. Add cranberries and vanilla and reduce the heat to medium-low (the liquid should be simmering, not boiling). Let simmer for 10 minutes more. Serve in heat-safe mugs.

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Let cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Reheat on the stove top over low heat or in the microwave on Medium.


– BreAnn Farnsworth
  Clinical Nutrition Manager