Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Alcohol in your kitchen – are there any good substitutes?

As I wrote in a prior Cooking Tip, many recipes call for some type of alcohol in both cooking and baking. There are reasons for that as discussed in that Tip. It is also not true that all of the alcohol cooks off. See this Article for a break-down of that subject.

What do you do, though, if you do not have the required alcohol or just really prefer not to use it? Are there any decent substitutes? Although using a substitute probably will not result in the exact flavor that would be in the dish with the alcohol, you can still produce good results.

There is a plethora of substitution lists if you just do an online search. Rather than just repeat this information, here is a link to one of the best lists from I would rather just discuss some generalities as well as some less common ideas.

Black tea

This is often recommended as a substitute for red wine. The explanation is that both tea and wine contain tannins. One popularized idea is to add a dash of any kind of vinegar and a squish of tomato purée to a medium-strength black tea to use as a substitute for red wine.


Since wine is often used to make vinegars and the latter contain the same compounds found in wine, vinegar is often used as a wine substitute for liquid recipes such as vinaigrettes and marinades. For beef, pork or veggies, try red wine vinegar. For chicken and fish dishes, white wine vinegar is a better choice. However, vinegars are more acidic than wine. You may, therefore, want to dilute with water in a 1:1 ratio.

Fruit juices

Since wine comes from fruit, fruit juice may be a good substitute. Although any fruit juice could theoretically be used, some of the more recommended ones are pomegranate, cranberry and grape. If your chosen juice is less acidic than wine, add a splash of vinegar. Also, check the labels of any/all fruit juices for the sugar content. You may need to decrease any additional sugar called for in your recipe.

Citrus juices

These have great acidity but diluting them with some water will help prevent imparting too much of the citrus flavor to your dish.

Pickling liquid

You will find this in things such as sauerkraut. Adding it to the end of your sauce is said to add brightness, acidity and complexity. One caution is that the liquid will be high in salt and so, make appropriate adjustments.

Liquid from canned mushrooms.

This could be used in savory dishes as a substitute for red wine. Once again, beware of the sodium content. Some chefs like to mix the mushroom liquid with an equal amount of cranberry, pomegranate or grape juice to achieve a sweeter result.

Tomato juice

Although it does not have a fruity flavor profile, it does have similar colors and acidity levels to red wine. On its own, it can be bitter but mixed with a fruit juice, it can work well.

America’s Test Kitchen recently came up with some creative substitutions using pantry ingredients.


  • Combine ⅔ cup boiling water, ¼ cup raisins, 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, 4 tsp molasses and a pinch of salt. Add 1 black tea bag (or equivalent of loose-leaf tea), steep for 4 minutes followed by a rest in the refrigerator for an hour. Strain and use in place of dark rum.

Red wine

  • Steep 1 black tea bag in ½ cup boiling water until it cools. Stir in 1 tsp distilled white vinegar.

White wine

  • Substitute ½ cup chicken broth mixed with either 1 tsp white wine vinegar or 1 tsp lemon juice.

If you check out the link I gave you above from Recipe Tips, you can see many more options for substitutions. In full disclosure, I have not tried these ideas as I generally opt for what the recipe specifies. If you have played around with some of these, let me know how it turned out!