It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.
My guy has been sober for sixteen years and prefers that there is no alcohol in the foods that I make. I do use extracts but never heavily. I have avoided the wine/champagne vinegars, but I wonder about balsamic vinegar and the alcohol content. I would love to know what to use to make up for the lack of wine vinegar. Some recipes I feel I can interchange, but I really wonder about something like gazpacho, where the flavor is really needed.
There are traces of alcohol in vinegar but a very small amount. Wine vinegars such as red or white wine and balsamic vinegar do start with a dilute wine which is then fermented. Instead of the bacteria fermenting sugars, as happens when the wine is made, bacteria from the acetobacter family use the alcohol in the fermentation process. Most of the alcohol is used up, and much like the extracts you are using, there may be traces of ethanol remaining. It's not likely to be very much - on the order of 2% or so. Consequently, using a tablespoon of white wine vinegar might have a drop of alcohol in it.
If you feel that you don't want to use white wine vinegar, substituting with another acid might be a good choice. Lemon juice or lime juice could be a good choice (the lime juice would be especially good with the gazpacho). If you want a softer citrus note, using Meyer lemons or even grapefruit can be a good choice.
Thanks for writing.
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP