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Alcohol Substitutions and Cooking Tips

Why use alcohol in recipes?

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There are a vast number of wonderful recipes which use some form of alcohol as an ingredient in sauces, marinades or as a main flavor ingredient. What do you do when you don't have that particular liquor or you will be serving children at dinner or you do not partake of any alcoholic beverages? In many cases, you can make some non-alcoholic substitutions. In order to be successful, you'll need to be armed with information and background on why the alcohol is used and the flavor goal of the recipe.

Why use alcohol in cooking?

In general, the main reason any alcoholic beverage is used in a recipe is to impart flavor. After all, the finest extracts with the most intense flavors are alcohol-based, particularly vanilla. Fermentation intensifies and concentrates fruit essence into liqueurs, cordials, brandies and wines. Other foodstuffs are distilled into potent liquors specifically to boggle the senses but still appeal to the palate.

Many object to the alcohol content, but it is a completely natural by-product which happens daily in nature, even within the human body. In many recipes, the alcohol is an essential component to achieve a desired chemical reaction in a dish. Alcohol causes many foods to release flavors that cannot be experienced without the alcohol interaction. Beer contains yeast which leavens breads and batters. Some alcoholic beverages can help break down tough fibers via marinades. Other dishes use alcoholic content to provide entertainment, such as flambes and flaming dishes.

Wine and Kirsch were originally added to fondue because the alcohol lowers the boiling point of the cheese which helps prevent curdling. In the case of leavened goods, there is no ready substitute for beer. Instead, choose a different recipe which uses another leavener such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda. For marinades, acidic fruits will usually do the trick. For flambes and flamed dishes, you're out of luck if you don't use the alcohol. For flavoring alone, you will often have a number of substitution options.

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