A little known fact is everyone produces alcohol within their bodies daily, regardless of proactive measures taken to avoid alcohol consumption. However, the rate at which your body produces alcohol can increase due to diet, especially if consuming alcohol rich products. The bodily process is called endogenous ethanol production. Ethanol is formed from acetaldehyde within the human body through various metabolic processes, we may generate up to one ounce of pure alcohol in a day.

The oxymoron of alcohol in alcohol-free beer

Alcohol-free beer contains a small amount of alcohol, in the UK anything containing 0.05% ABV or less can legally be called alcohol free, in the EU this limit rises to 0.5% ABV. This is due to small amounts of alcohol occurring naturally as part of the brewing process, this is called ethanol fermentation. Ethanol fermentation is the process in which yeasts convert sugars into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. Brewers of beers under 0.5% ABV either remove the alcohol from full-strength beer or use a process that only produces minute amounts of alcohol. One of the most common methods is to heat the beer to boil away alcohol. Another is to pass the beer through a filter which removes the alcohol. 

Foods containing alcohol, what to look out for?

Many foods contain alcohol, however, note that labels will only list alcohol as an ingredient if it has been added. Producers of fermented food and drink add yeast to kick-start fermentation. Nevertheless, some foods and beverages exhibit spontaneous fermentation, this is where wild yeasts turn sugar into alcohol when the conditions are right. This is why some foods and drinks that have not been intentionally fermented can also contain alcohol. 

Examples of foods & extracts containing alcohol

Many types of meat and pasta sauces contain alcohol. This can include glazes for meats, such as a whiskey-based chicken glaze or port wine reduction sauces that commonly accompany pork, beef or pasta dishes. Because alcohol helps tenderise meat, it is often used as an ingredient in marinades. Other popular alcohol-containing meals include chicken or sirloin marsala, chicken piccata and various risottos.

Vanilla extract is a popular additive in many desserts and also contains alcohol. While the alcohol content usually drops to low levels when cooked, a trace amount is still present. If you are seriously avoiding alcohol, avoid foods in which vanilla extract has been used.

Beer is used in many different foods as well, including soups, stews and even bread. Food prepared with beer will usually state clearly in the title if it has been used e.g. beer bread or Guinness Stew. 

Further breakdown of everyday foods containing alcohol:

  • burger rolls – 1.28% ABV
  • rye bread – 0.18% ABV
  • banana (ripe) – 0.2% ABV
  • banana (very ripe with dark sections) – 0.4% ABV
  • pear (ripe) – 0.04% ABV
  • cherry yoghurt – 0.02% ABV

Conclusion

The amount of alcohol in the foods and drinks listed above is nearly insignificant. However as most non-alcoholic beers contain some alcohol, theoretically speaking there is still a risk of intoxication. However, you would have to drink such products in extreme excess. No, and low-alcohol drinks are great options for those looking to reduce their alcohol intake. Yet, individuals such as pregnant women and anyone recovering from alcoholism should avoid them.

If you have any concerns, the best advice is always to speak with a health professional or support worker.