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Managing Alcohol in Extracts and Flavorings

 There are extracts for various items, such as rum and vanilla. Is there one for cognac? If not, when a recipe calls for cognac and a couple of my guests are recovering alcoholics, what can be substituted?

 Apparently we need a crash course in extracts. Vanilla extract — by law — is not less than 35% ethyl alcohol, or 70 proof. On a shelf right now, we have almond extract at 36% alcohol, lemon extract at 80%, and mint extract at 74%. Our bottle of rum extract at 35% is only a bit less alcoholic than a bottle of rum, at 40%.

Extracts of this nature (as opposed to such extracts as demi-glace and bouillon) all contain alcohol — sometimes it's the main ingredient.

You can often find flavored oils for citrus flavors, and cinnamon, anise, and other spice flavors to substitute for alcohol-based extracts. You can use vanilla in bean or sugar form to avoid the alcohol. We have found amaretto, bourbon, brandy, champagne, crème de menthe, and rum flavorings, which are based on artificial ingredients and do not include alcohol.

Many, many people will tell you that there is so little alcohol in the tiny amount of extract you will use in your dish (or even the actual cognac at 40%), and that so much of it will evaporate in cooking, you needn't worry about using a little in your dish. After a lengthy discussion with a recovering alcoholic at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the physical and psychological effects of non-alcoholic beer and cider on recovering alcoholics, we would be leery of using an alcoholic ingredient in a dish for susceptible guests. We would be comfortable putting a teaspoonful of vanilla extract in a batch of chocolate-chip cookies, but adding alcohol to a liquid sauce that clearly is meant to contain alcohol, there we would probably draw the line.

Your dish may be slightly flat or bland if you omit the cognac (how much depends on the volume called for in the recipe). Cognac is a brandy, and while we haven't found any specific cognac substitute, you can find a brandy-flavored oil, though your grocery store probably doesn't carry it. Other possible non-alcoholic substitutions for brandy in a recipe are white grape juice, apple cider or apple juice, diluted peach or apricot syrups, and water, used in the same amount as called for in the recipe.

We salute you for the gracious consideration of your guests' needs.

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