Red/white wine substitute for cooking?
February 17, 2005 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for red and white wine substitutes for cooking purposes, due to a severe sulfite allergy. Ideas? [+]

I can't use regular wine, because I'm allergic to the sulfites. (And by 'allergic', I mean 'keel over in an asthma attack' allergic, not 'oh, it's giving me a headache' allergic, so I can't injest any amount of sulfites. This also includes some Balsamic vinegars, mirin, etc.) However, I've never really developed a taste for wine before I developed the allergy, so I have no real idea of what I'm missing taste-wise by not using wine when cooking.

So - what would people recommend that I use as a wine substitute in cooking? (I'm thinking sauces in particular, as I love making French sauces.) Thanks!
posted by spinifex23 to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It depends a lot on which sauce you're making. When I make a vinaigrette, I often replace the vinegar with a citrus juice (tangerine or clementine juice works really well) because it's less acidic, and so I use less oil. So if it's a place where you want the acidity of the wine, various juices work. If you want the complex flavor of a red wine, try making your own brown sauce and using that instead. Or just a rich beef stock, which is very similar.

There are also, of course, plenty of cream based sauces. And have you tried finding wine without sulfites?
posted by anapestic at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2005

All wine has some naturally occurring sulfites, as well as the trace amounts added in non-organic wine. I imagine that spinifex23 has had enough bad expiences to be VERY careful. . .

Citrus juice might be good. . .and I don't think you are missing out terribly by not substituting for wine and just leaving it out. It just adds more depth, in a very subtle way, and a good reason to take a few sips while cooking. . .
posted by Danf at 10:46 AM on February 17, 2005

I think they sell sulfite-free wine in most liquor stores. Sometimes it's just local stuff. For cooking purposes it should be fine.
posted by smackfu at 10:47 AM on February 17, 2005

There are wines without added sulfites, but there are no wines without sulfites, as some amount occurs naturally in wine. Given the severity of spinifex23's allergy, I suspect that even the naturally occuring amount would be too much.

Wines which do not say "contains sulfites" on their label do not necessarily mean that they have no sulfites, only that the concentration of sulfites falls shorts of the threshold which triggers the legal requirement for the "contains sulfites" warning in the U.S.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:52 AM on February 17, 2005

I've heard of 'sulfite free' wines before, but the money I'd have to spend on a bottle just to see if it'll cut off my breathing or not just isn't worth it.

Thus, the search for completely wine free substitutes. But, I do thank you for the suggestion!

And the sauces I'm thinking of are the classical French sauces. (Bechmal, etc.) Think Julia Child. I love French food, and have been wanting to try some French cooking.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:57 AM on February 17, 2005

Oh, and as to the original question, I would second anapestic's recommendation of beef stock for red wine in many cases. I don't think I'd recommend blindly using it in all cases without thinking about whether it makes sense, but in many cases it would. In making beef stroganoff I sometimes use red wine, sometimes beef stock, and sometimes a mixture of the two, and it turns out good either way.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:58 AM on February 17, 2005

Actually, there are no other countries which require the labeling "contains sulfites". So most imported wine does exceed the quantity of sulfites required for labeling under U.S. law. Also, contrary to the popular notion, white wines oontain sulfite levels near or equal to red wines.
posted by Miko at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2005

I've seen plenty of recipes for chicken-based dishes that say you can substitute apple juice for white wine. I tried it once, and it worked well enough for me.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2005

A lot of flavours dissolve in alcohol, which is one of the reasons we cook with wine. If other alcohols are not a problem, lemon juice and vodka can be a decent substitute for both the tartness of the wine and the alcohol content.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2005

A basic b├ęchamel does not require wine so don't worry about that. Wine in risotto, baked fennel, generally most vegetable centered dishes adds this light sourness, and a delicate flowery fruit. Ever tasted the skin of a grape? That is what I can come up with for an example of what wine tastes like. So, I would suggest trying vodka or gin for white, maybe add a touch of white grape juice (adding straight juice only adds sweetness, you may as well just add sugar). For red, I can't think of any but red is generally only used with meat so I would say substitute the dish for a veg dish.

I would think there are resources out there considering the amount of alcoholics who can't cook with wine. And as Mario Batali says, never put anything in here (your cooking) that you wouldn't put in here (your mouth), meaning never add any wines, liquors to your food that you wouldn't actually drink yourself (thus never use artificial substitutes, 'cooking wine' unless you like to drink it).
posted by scazza at 11:21 AM on February 17, 2005

Is there anything that can be added to wine to either precipitate the sulphites, or change the sulphites into something innocuous?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:34 AM on February 17, 2005

In my opinion, when using wine in cooking you're usually going for one of four things:
1) alcohol
2) fruitiness
3) acidity (esp. if it's vinegar)
4) "depth"

For example, when deglazing a pan after searing a hunk of meat, it's the alcohol that magically disolves the brown bits. On the other hand, when you use vinegar at the beginning of a hollandaise, you're going after the acid. On the third hand (...) when braising, you're going for a bit of everything, but especially "depth".

You can use just about any liquor for alcohol content, providing the taste matches the dish you're making - but I would be careful with gin: I find it's a little "herbal" for most purposes.

For fruitiness, juices are the obvious choice, but even just adding a bit of sugar (or sugar bearing ingredient) can bring out some natural fruitiness in other ingredients.

For acidity, lemon juice should be your standby (i.e. for hollandaise), but definitely experiment: orange juice is less acidic and sweeter, for example.

For depth, use better, or more reduced stocks. Make brown stock with veal bones instead of beef, reduce a little more than you would otherwise. You may have to make your stock saltier than you would have otherwise, since wine contains substances that makes things taste salty without being "salty" if you know what I mean.

I would also recommend looking at this page:


from one of my favorite sites about french cooking (or cooking in general). He's pretty wine-focussed, but the point of the page is constructing your own sauces from the basic building blocks.

Hope that helps.
posted by aquafiend at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2005

spinifex23 - What are some things that you'd like to make that normally require wine? I don't think there's any blanket method that could be employed for replacing wine. Some recipes, you might be able to get by with making them without wine, while others you'd have to find an alternative (like cider perhaps), while even others you'd have to change up the whole recipe altogether (in the same way a lactose intolerant person might alter dairy-fied recipe).

After sitting here thinking about it some more... man. I mean the wine is one thing, but no vinegars either? I feel your pain. I'm just thinking what a splash of Sherry does for a bisque and a balsamic reduction on a tender filet {sigh}... a bearnaise without the tarragon vinegar. Sad really.

Anyway, give us some examples and I'm sure the lot of us can come up with some ideas.
posted by Witty at 11:56 AM on February 17, 2005

Stock plus one or more of:
Fish Sauce (nuoc mam)
Soy Sauce
Fruit/Citrus Juice
Apple Cider Vinegar
Other Alcohol

paired with herbs/ginger
posted by Feisty at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2005

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

I love the matrix approach, and I'll have to try that!

Some vinegars I can use, as long as they don't have a wine base. So, apple cider vinegar I can use (and love). Also, I can (and do) use spirits, liquors, and beers in cooking.

Also, I don't really mourn the loss over the ability to drink wine, because I maybe had it about 4 times before I developed the allergy. So, as I have no idea what it's like, I don't miss it.

(Now, if I had developed an allergy to beer or whiskey instead, I'd be one bitter geek. Bitter, bitter, bitter.)
posted by spinifex23 at 12:17 PM on February 17, 2005

You can have beer? It's not of much use in sauce making per se, but it's a great braising liquid. So instead of a boeuf bourgignon, for example, you could do something similar with beef cooked in beer. It's very tasty, though the flavors are, obviously, much different.
posted by anapestic at 12:31 PM on February 17, 2005

As a chef myself, and one who avoids wine for religious reasons, I get the wine-substitution question a lot. aquafiend has a very good answer; I'll only add that wine is, at the end of the day, a "flavorful liquid." So, substitute with another equally flavorful liquid, keeping an eye on the properties you wish to emphasize: bright, sweet, salty, herbal, acidic, etc.

Consider the makeup of wine. It's mostly water, some alcohol, some other stuff (including the sulfites)--so build your own. You won't have "authentic" coq au vin, but your coq au spinifex23 might be an improved classic.
posted by terceiro at 4:52 PM on February 17, 2005

I also suffer sulfite-sensitivity (although it doesn't sound as severe as yours) and need to be careful with wine (although my reaction varies greatly from wine to wine in ways that make me think sulfite concentration isn't the sole factor).

In addition to fruitiness and acidity, wine adds umami to dishes. I suspect that's at least part of what aquafiend means by "depth"; dishes taste "thin" if you skip the wine (or replace it with spirits, fruit juice, or most vinegars, all of which are low umami). For me that "richness" that wine adds is the hardest thing to replace.

Stock, soy, fish sauce, which have been mentioned, are very umamity (OK, I just made that up). Other sources are cheese, tomatoes, anchovies, and especially mushrooms. You can combine any of those (as appropriate for the dish) along with fruit juice and/or vinegar to provide the acidity, fruit, and umami missing when you skip the wine.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:13 PM on February 17, 2005

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