Cooking Tips

Best Pantry Subs to Replace the Alcohol in Your Cooking

Our surprising combinations make startlingly good stand-ins.

Published Nov. 14, 2022.

We’re always looking for ways to accommodate the dietary preferences of our readers, and we receive frequent requests for booze substitutes. So in that spirit (wink, wink), our test cooks have come up with three handy swaps–for rum, red wine, and white wine–that you can make from pantry ingredients if you’re avoiding alcohol in your cooking or just don’t have it on hand.  

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Alcohol-Free Rum

Dark rum adds depth and complexity to treats like cakes, sauces, eggnog, and trifle. Senior Editor Lan Lam devised a simple way to fashion a surprisingly complex rum substitute from a handful of everyday ingredients.

Her recipe draws caramelly sweetness from raisins and molasses, richness and body from butter, and deep color and depth from black tea.

Alcohol-Free Dark Rum Substitute

1. Combine 2/3 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup raisins, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 4 teaspoons molasses, and pinch salt in bowl. 

2. Submerge 1 black tea bag in water mixture for 4 minutes. 

3. Refrigerate for 1 hour to let flavors meld.

4. Strain and use in place of dark rum.

Alcohol-Free Red Wine

When Deputy Food Editor Andrea Geary came across British food writer Jack Monroe’s claim that strong black tea could be substituted for red wine in cooking, the idea made a fascinating sort of sense, since both tea and red wine get some of their flavors from tannins, bitter compounds also found in coffee and dark chocolate.

To test Monroe’s idea, she compared a pot roast braised in a full bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon with another pot roast braised in an equal amount of black tea. The batch made with tea turned out to be surprisingly good, with the tannins in the tea helping balance the richness of the beef. 

She made this substitute even better by brewing a superstrong infusion to bring out even more tannins and then adding a little vinegar for brightness. In fact, the pot roast and gravy made with this mixture was startlingly similar to the one made with red wine.

Alcohol-Free Red Wine Substitute

Steep 1 black tea bag per 4 ounces of boiling water until tea is completely cooled, then stir in 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar per 4 ounces of tea.

Alcohol-Free White Wine

We have found that the best course of action when we don’t want to use white wine in a soup or pan sauce is to use extra chicken broth, adding white wine vinegar or lemon juice just before serving.

Alcohol-Free White Wine Substitute

To replace: 1/2 cup wine

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth + 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth + 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Want to learn about commercially available non-alcoholic spirts and cocktails? Read about our tasting here.


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