A surprising number of foods contain alcohol. However, the amount is usually quite low. You also might like to visit Alcohol in Cough Medicine and Other Over-the-Counter Medications.
- Our Body Makes Alcohol
- Effect of Cooking on Alcohol
- Reasons for Not Drinking
- These Foods Contain Alcohol
Fermented foods such as yogurt and baked goods (bread, rolls, etc.) contain alcohol. But so do fruits and fruit juices. And alcohol levels are higher as the fruit ripens or as time passes before the fruit juice is consumed.
Non-alcoholic beverages in the US must contain less than 1/2 of one percent alcohol by volume. In the UK, a de-alcoholised” beverage is 1/5 of one percent or less alcohol.
A number of foods and beverages can have well over 1/2 of one percent alcohol. By that definition, they could then be considered “alcoholic!”
I. Our Body Makes Alcohol
Everyone produces alcohol within their bodies every day. They do so regardless of age, race, or religion. The rate can increase because of diet. But even if their religion forbids alcohol, they make it anyway. And they, like everyone else, will do so as long as they live.
The process is endogenous ethanol production. And we may produce up to about one ounce of pure alcohol in a day. That’s equal to almost two drinks per day!
As a result, eating non-alcoholic foods and our own alcohol production can sometimes register on a breathalyzer!
II. Effect of Cooking on Alcohol: Still, Some Foods Contain Alcohol
The US Department of Agriculture has prepared this chart to show how fast alcohol evaporates during cooking.
Clearly, several things greatly effect how quickly alcohol “burns off.” One is cooking temperature. Another is cooking time. A third is surface area. (That’s also related to whether or not the alcohol is stirred into a dish.)
Assume we add a tablespoon of 40% (80 proof) alcohol to a dish. Thus, we begin with four tenths of a tablespoon of pure alcohol. Assume that after cooking 20% of the pure alcohol remains. That means that 8% of a tablespoon remains
If the dish provides four servings, then each contains 2% of a tablespoon of alcohol.
It’s easy to calculate other alcohol amounts per serving with other amounts and proofs.
III. Reasons for Not Drinking
Reasons for not consuming alcohol vary widely.
Some religions prohibit drinking alcohol. And some of those prohibit even consuming it in food. That’s a big distinction. Not drinking is a simple and an easy rule to follow.
For example, in Islam, eating foods containing even trace amounts of alcohol is considered sinful.
Alcohol combined with some medications should be avoided. The labels of such medications indicate when this is the case.
Doctors advise patients that they should avoid taking blood thinning medications for a period before surgery. Such medications even include aspirin. Alcohol also thins blood (that’s one reason it’s good for heart and vascular health).
Doctors virtually never advise against drinking before surgery. However, it would not hurt to ask about drinking for a period before surgery. Of course, the small amounts of alcohol in foods would not be a problem if drinking is o.k.
One observer makes an important point. Specifically, “For some recovering alcoholics, consuming foods with alcohol in them can be extremely upsetting. Despite their not knowing about the alcohol being present before eating, they could take it to mean a relapse. Some will even use it as a means of justifying a return to alcohol use and abuse.”1
Loss of Control
Some alcoholics fear that any alcohol in foods will trigger a loss of control over alcohol.
In reality, evidence doesn’t support the loss of control theory. It was proposed by AA in the 1930s
For example, alcoholic priests don’t lose control after drinking wine in performing religious services. They believe that they are drinking Christ’s blood rather than wine. So they don’t lose control.
Similarly, alcoholics don’t lose control after drinking alcohol without realizing it. They “lose control” only if they know they’re consuming alcohol.
People who believe in the loss of control theory are much more likely to relapse after drinking. That’s in comparison to those who don’t believe in it. Thus, the idea of loss of control often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Naturally, people who believe in loss of control should avoid any food they believe will make them lose control.
To learn more, visit Understanding Alcoholism: Its Nature, Cause, and Possible Cure.
Pregnant women might wish to avoid any foods with alcohol. In reality, there’s no research that having one drink a day during pregnancy has ever caused a single case of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
However, it’s conceivable that doing so might cause some undetectable harm to babies. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable for pregnant women to abstain from alcohol. It’s also understandable if some choose to avoid foods that may contain some alcohol.
IV. These Foods Contain Alcohol (or May Contain It)
Here are some examples. Note that labels will only list alcohol as an ingredient if it has been added. Not if it simply exists in the product.
This listing shows the extent to which foods contain alcohol. However, it is far from complete.
A. Extracts and Flavors
Extracts, either natural (so called “pure”) or artificial, usually contain alcohol. In fact, pure vanilla extract must, by US law, have at least 35% alcohol. However, many have much more alcohol.
Extracts are made from plants or plant products. On the other hand, flavors are not.
Here are some examples of extracts and flavors and their alcohol content.
- All McCormick extracts list alcohol as main ingredient.
- Neilson-Massey Pure Almond Extract (90%)
- Taylor & Colledge Lemon Extract. (Alcohol is second ingredient.)
- Simple Truth Vanilla Extract. (Alcohol is second ingredient.)
- Watkins Pure Mint Extract (88%)
- Kroger Imitation Banana Flavor (48%)
- Angostura Bitters (45%)
- Harris Teeter Pure Almond Extract (32%)
- Kroger Imitation Coconut Flavor (26%)
- Taylor & Colledge Lavender Extract Paste (20%)
B. Cooking Wine
Cooking wines typically contain high levels of salt to make them non-beverage wines.
- Holland House Marsala (17% to 17.5%)
- Edmundo Golden (11% to 13%)
- Holland House Red (10.5% to 11%)
- Holland House White (10.5% to 11%)
Vinegar usually contains 0.3% to 0.4% alcohol. The alcohol reduces the sharpness and astringency of the vinegar.
In the EU, rules limit alcohol content to 0.5%. However, in wine vinegar it can be 1%.
- Grey Poupon (White Wine)
- Sir Kensington Dijonn (White Wine)
- Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground (Red & White Wine)
- Lakeshore Whole Grain (Irish Whiskey)
- Stone Brewing Co. Mustard (Beer)
- Anarchy in a Jar Beer Mustard (Seeds soaked in Beer)
E. Soy and Other Sauces
All Kikkoman soy sauces have about 1.5% – 2% alcohol.
All of the following contain alcohol.
- Truvia Organic Sweetener
- Kikkoman Teriyaki
- Mitsukan Marin Seasoning
- P.F. Chang Teriyaki
- Tonton Kobe BBQ
- Tonton Hibachi
- La Choy Teryaki
- F. Cooking Spray
G. Soft Drinks
One study found traces of alcohol in these soft drink brands. 2
- A&W Root Beer
- Caffeine-Free Diet Coke
- Calistoga Lemon Flavor
- Canada Dry Ginger Ale
- Diet Cherry 7-Up
- Diet Dr. Pepper
- Diet Sprite
- Elliott’s Brewed Ice Tea
- Elliott’s Lemonade
- Hawaiian Punch
- Lemon-Lime Slice
- Mountain Dew
- Orange Creme
- Original Diet 7-Up
- Second Wind Sports Drink
- Tropicana Fruit Punch
- Veryfine Papaya Punch
Other research has found alcohol in these.
- Fanta Orange
- Langers Raspberry Lemonade
- Langers Fruit Punch
- V8 Splash Lemonade
H. Other Food Products Often Contain Alcohol
- Béarnaise, bordelaise, and many other sauces.
- Beer bread and beer-batters
- Black forest and fruit cake often contain alcohol.
- Champagne-flavored jams.
- Dessert glazes
- Flambé desserts (cherries jubilee, bananas Foster, etc) may have high levels of alcohol remaining.
- Liqueur filled or flavored chocolates
- Non-alcoholic or de-alcoholized beers and wines (up to 1/2 of 1%).
- PAM cooking spray contains alcohol. However, not all of its sprays do. Also many other cooking sprays contain alcohol.
- Wine flavored cheeses and pates.
V. Resources: Many Foods Contain Alcohol
Augustin, J, et al. Alcohol retention in food preparation. J Am Diet Ass’n, 1992, 92(4), 486-88.
Footnotes: Foods Contain Alcohol