Is there any alcohol in white wine vinegar?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is there any alcohol in white wine vinegar?

—Shafiq A., London, U.K.

Dear Shafiq,

Maybe. Making white wine vinegar—as with any vinegar—starts with an alcohol source. The ethanol is then converted to acetic acid with the help of an acetobacter.

It will depend on the alcohol of the base you started with, as well as how the process goes to determine if there is any remaining trace alcohol, but if you’ve truly ended up with vinegar, it’s not considered an alcoholic product. But small amounts might linger, as with most types of conversions.

I’ve read varying accounts of how much trace alcohol might remain—anywhere from 0.5 to 2 percent or so, but commercial vinegar isn’t required to list the this percentage. If you’re avoiding alcohol for health or religious reasons, you can substitute vinegar with another acid like lemon juice. I’ve read that boiling vinegar for a very long time can eliminate any trace alcohol—but that sounds like a very stinky proposition, and one that would result in a more concentrated vinegar, since the water would evaporate faster than the acetic acid.

—Dr. Vinny

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