The following article researched and written by Dr. Mian N. Riaz. He has a Ph.D. and presently working as food scientist with Texas A&M University in Texas.


According to The American Heritage Dictionary "alcohol is a colorless volatile flammable liquid, synthesized or obtained by fermentation of sugars and starches and widely used, either pure or denatured, as a solvent, in drugs, cleaning solutions, explosives and intoxicating beverages."

Alcohol (ethanol, ethyl alcohol) is usually made from starch, sugar and other carbohydrates by fermentation with yeast; also, synthetically from acetylene or ethylene. It is clear, colorless, very mobile, flammable liquid; a pleasant odor; burning taste; and miscible with water and with many organic liquids. It is hygroscopic and relatively nonionic. Ethanol has a slightly sweet taste and a characteristic aroma.

There are many members (hundreds) of the alcohol family, from which approximately a dozen alcohols are most commonly used, but ethyl is the best-known alcohol and the one that concern us most, as it is the principal alcohol to be found in all alcoholic beverages. The chemical formula for ethyl alcohol, or ethanol is C2H5OH. There is no any difference between ethyl alcohol and ethanol. Both are the same thing except two different names. In old nomenclature it is called ethyl alcohol whereas in new nomenclature it is called ethanol. Chemically, alcohols are hydroxides of organic radicals. There is nothing in ethyl alcohol that in itself is poisonous orinjurious to a person's health. Boiling point for ethanol is 78.5oC (173.3oF).

Alcoholic Beverage

Literally, any potable liquid containing from 1/2 to 80 percent ethyl alcohol by volume is an alcoholic beverage. However, for the purposes of taxation, the federal and state governments have set certain definite standards as to what constitutes an alcohol beverage. Whereas beers containing as little 2 percent alcohol by volume are taxable, certain bitters and medicinal compounds, which often contain upward of 40 percent alcohols, are not taxed because they are not considered alcoholic beverages.(1)


Beer is an alcoholic beverage fermented from cereals and malt and flavored with hops.


A spirit is a potable alcoholic beverage obtained from distillation of a liquid containing alcohol.


An alcoholic beverage made by distillation rather than by fermentation.

Sugar Alcohol

These alcohols are chemically the same as other alcohols. But don't contain any qualities for drunkenness. The sugar alcohols bear a close relationship to the simple sugars from which they are formed by reduction and from which their names are often derived (i.e., Sorbitol, Mannitol, etc.). A statement of the number of grams of sugar alcohols in a serving may be declared voluntarily on the food label. Muslims don't have to worry, if they find a food label statement which says "sugar alcohol."

Rubbing Alcohol

This product contains Isopropanol alcohol (approximately 70% by volume) and does not contain ethyl alcohol. Isopropanol is entirely different from ethyl alcohol or ethanol. This alcohol is very dangerous for drinking purposes. It can cause blindness and then attack on nervous system and eventually a person can die on drinking. This alcohol can cause gastric disturbance and should be used only on external body parts.


Wine is the naturally fermented juice of ripe grapes.

Major classes of alcoholic beverages

All alcoholic beverages fall into one of the three basic categories:

  1. Fermented beverages, which are made from agricultural products such as grains and fruits and have alcoholic strengths ranging from 3 to 16 percent;

  2. Distilled or spirit beverages, which result from a pure distillation of fermented beverages; and

  3. Compounded or fortified beverages, which are made by combining either a fermented beverage or a spirit with flavoring substances.

Fermented or malted beverages

Beers, Wines, Ales, Porter and Stout, Sake

Distilled or spirit beverages

Whiskies, Vodkas, Rums, Gins, Brandies, Fruit Brandies, Liqueurs and other Spirits; (Tequila, Akvavit, Bitters, etc.)

Fortified or compounded beverages

Port, Vermouth. All alcoholic beverages are derived either directly or indirectly from fermented products. Beer and sake are produced from barley (other grains are possible sources) and rice, respectively. Unlike wines, these beverages are derived from carbohydrates that are not initially fermentable. Conversion of carbohydrates into fermentable sugars requires the action of amylases produced by barley in the case of beer, and by the fungus during sake production.

Fruits containing high sugar concentrations at maturity and nutrients at levels sufficient to support growth of fermenting yeast, have traditionally been the raw materials from which wines are made. Grapes are unusual in that they contain sufficiently high levels of sugars, nutrients and acids to produce wines that are microbiologically stable.

Distilled beverages are derived from fermented grains and potatoes (whiskies and vodka), sugars cane by-products (rum), fruits (brandies), and other plants such as mezcal (tequila). Liqueurs are distilled beverages that have been flavored and sweetened. Fortified beverages require the addition of alcohol during production, generally in the form of brandy. Special fruit preserves are fortified to assure preservation. The intact fruits, usually cherries, are steeped in brandy for a period of months prior to consumption.

Non-Alcoholic Beverages

The introduction of the new non-alcoholic malt beverage is an example of how the marketplace responds when the public changes its mind. Despite their promotion of moderation, the non-alcoholic products are not without controversy. The controversy concerns the amount of alcohol that may be in the products and whether alcoholics can safely use them as substitutes for alcoholic beverages.

The products have less than 1/2 percent alcohol (by volume), compared with 4 percent for regular beer, 3 percent for light beer, and 2 percent for most wines. The non- alcoholic drinks may not be entirely free from alcohol, as there is no known process that will extract all the alcohol from an alcoholic drink.(2) The small traces of alcohol make the labeling of the beverages an issue. Under current regulations, beers (malt beverages) and wines qualify as non-alcoholic if they contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol. But does even that much alcohol threaten an alcoholic who tries to use the drinks as a substitute for real beer or wine?

One-half percent alcohol in a drink is hardly considered sufficient to bring on drunkenness. According to one estimate " in order for the average, healthy, 160-pound individual to sense the cognitively registered alcohol induced reactions, 8 to 11 five- ounces 'non-alcoholic' wine drinks at 0.5 percent would need to be consumed within 10-15 minutes".(2)

Consumer Reports magazine, which tested two imported non-alcoholic malt beverage for alcohol content and found they contained 0.06 and 0.28 percent alcohol. According to the former executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism: "we just don't know what level of alcohol could trigger an alcoholic episode. I can't imagine why anyone would want to take the risk." There is no clear evidence that the 'nonalcoholic' drink would be a more likely source for a 'slip' than any other drink that tasted and smelled familiar.(2)

Soft and carbonated drinks do not contain any alcohol. Some soft drink flavors are extracted with alcohol, but the residual alcohol level is very low. Usually this comes under incidental additives. These are substances that are present in a food or drink at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that food.

Cooking with Alcohol

Alcohol added to the recipe may cook off, but it depends on how long you cook it. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepared the following table of alcohol content in cooked foods. It provides some very interesting information. One can compare a recipe' directions to the following table to determine how much alcohol is left.(3)

Preparation Method

Percent Alcohol Retained



Alcohol added to boiling liquid and removed from heat




No heat; stored overnight


Baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture


Baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:

15 minutes


30 minutes


1 hour


1.5 hours


2 hours


2.5 hours


Foods cooked with alcohol or wine for flavor and taste. This food product must have enough wine to give a wine flavor characteristics to the product. Meat and poultry products formulated with cooking wine may not declare "cooking wine" on the label. Wine must be shown as wine, Burgundy wine, Sauterne wine, etc., on the label. The ingredients of cooking wines are not required to be sublisted.(4)

The Standards of Identity for Wine

Wine is the most common alcoholic ingredients used for cooking and in other food preparation. For this reason, their standard of identity is very important. By law all wine must contain not less than 7% and not more than 24% of alcohol by volume. Following are the standards of identity for the several classes and type of wine.(5)

Class 1

Grape Wine: is a wine produced by normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound ripe grapes. Grape brandy or alcohol can be added in the wine. The color of the wine may come from the presence or absence of the red coloring matter of the skins, juice, or pulp of grapes may be designated as "red wine", "pink wine", "amber wine", or "white
wine" as the case may be. Any grape wine containing no added grape brandy or alcohol may be further designated as "natural".

Table Wine: is a grape wine having an alcoholic content not more than 14% by volume. Such wine may also be designated as "light wine," "red table wine," "light white wine," "sweet table wine," etc.

Dessert Wine: is a grape wine having an alcoholic content over 14% but not in excess of 24% by volume.

Class 2

Sparkling grape wine: is a grape wine made effervescent with carbon dioxide resulting solely from the fermentation of the wine within a closed container, tank or bottle. Sparkling wine includes "sparkling red wine," and "sparkling white wine."

Champagne: is a type of sparkling light wine that derives its effervescence solely from the secondary fermentation of the wine within glass containers of not greater than one gallon capacity, which possesses the taste, aroma and other characteristics attributed to champagne as made in the champagne district of France.

Sparkling Wines are further designated as
(a) "champagne style,"
(b) "champagne type,"
(c) "American champagne."

Crackling Wine, "petillant wine," "frizzante wine," (including cremant, perlant, reciotto, and other similar wine) is sparkling light wine normally less effervescent than champagne or other similar sparkling wine, but containing sufficient carbon dioxide in solution to produce, upon pouring under normal condition, after the disappearance of air bubbles, a slow and steady effervescence evidenced by the formation of gas bubbles flowing through the wine.

Class 3

Carbonated Grape Wine: (including "carbonated wine," carbonated red wine," and "carbonated white wine"), is grape wine made effervescent with carbon dioxide other than that resulting solely from the secondary fermentation of the wine within a closed container, tank or bottle.

Class 4

Citrus wine: "Citrus wine" or "citrus fruit wine" is produced by the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound, ripe citrus fruit. Citrus brandy or citrus alcohol can be added in this wine. Any citrus wine containing no added brandy or alcohol may be further designated as "natural."

Citrus Table Wine: or citrus fruit table wine is citrus wine having an alcoholic content not in excess of 14% by volume. Such wine may also be designated "light citrus wine", "light citrus fruit wine", "light sweet citrus fruit wine," etc.

Citrus Dessert wine: or citrus fruit dessert wine is citrus wine having an alcoholic content more than 24% by volume.

Citrus wine derived wholly from one kind of citrus fruit, shall be designated by the world "wine" qualified by the name of such citrus fruit, e.g., "orange wine", "grapefruit wine."

Class 5

Fruit wine: is wine (other than grape wine or citrus wine) produced by the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound ripe fruit. Fruit brandy or alcohol can be added in this wine.

Berry wine: is fruit wine produced from berries.

Fruit table Wine: or berry table wine is fruit or berry wine having an alcoholic content not in excess of 14% by volume. Such wine may also be designated "light fruit wine," or "light berry wine."

Fruit Dessert Wine: or berry dessert wine is fruit or berry wine having an alcoholic content over 14% but not more than 24% by volume.

Fruit wine derived wholly from one kind of fruit will be designated by the word "wine" qualified by the name of such fruit, e.g., "peach wine," "blackberry wine," etc.

Class 6

Wine from other agricultural products:
(1) Wine of this class is wine (other than grape wine, citrus wine, or fruit wine) made by the normal alcoholic fermentation of sound fermentable agricultural products, either fresh or dried. Wine of this class containing no added alcohol or other spirits may be further designated as "natural."

Table Wine: of this class is wine having an alcohol content not more than 14% by volume. Such wine may also be designated as "light."

Dessert wine: of this class is wine having an alcoholic content in excess of 14% but not in excess of 24% by volume.

Raisin wine: is wine of this class made from dried grapes.

Sake: is wine of this class produced from rice in accordance with the commonly accepted method of manufacture of such product.

Wine of this class derived wholly from one kind of agricultural product will except in the case of "sake" be designated by the word "wine" qualified by the name of such agricultural products, i.e., "honey wine", "raisin wine", "dried blackberry wine," etc.

Class 7

Aperitif Wine: is a wine having an alcoholic content of not less than 15% by volume, compounded from grape wine containing added brandy or alcohol, flavored with herbs and other natural aromatic flavoring materials, with or without the addition of caramel for coloring purposes, and possessing the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to aperitif wine and will be so designated unless designated as "vermouth."

Vermouth: is a type of aperitif wine compounded from grape wine, having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to vermouth, and will be so designated.

Class 8

Imitation and Substandard or other than standard wine.

Imitation Wine: will bear as a part of its designation the word "imitation," and shall include:(a) any wine containing synthetic materials. (b) any class or type of wine the taste, aroma, color, or other characteristics of which have been acquired in whole or in part, by treatment with methods or material of any kind.

Substandard Wine: or "other than standard wine" will bear as a part of its designation the word "substandard."

Why Alcohol is Used in Foods?

The major reason for using alcohol (especially wine) in food is perceived flavor or taste that it imparts. Most of the Italian foods are cooked with wine for flavor. Most of the wine evaporates during cooking, but the taste and flavor of wine still left in the foods. For most people food that is cooked with wine is a delicacy. Often alcohol is used as a necessity or it may be part of the other ingredients. Substances (in this case alcohol) that have no technical or functional effect but are present in a food due to having been incorporated into the food as an ingredient of another food. Sometimes alcohol may be used as processing aids.

Food Labeling Law Regarding Alcohol

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is listed in GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list. That means this alcohol has been shown to be safe based on a long history of common usage in food. There is not much labeling information available regarding a food that contains alcohol. According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA following are the basic principles that should be followed regarding a food that contains alcohol. USDA supervises all the meat items (chicken, beef, mutton, turkey, etc.). If the meat is cooked with wine, the label must say, "this meat cooked with wine." There is no need to give the composition of wine.

FDA supervises all other food items. (If a food contains more than 7 percent alcohol by volume, that food comes under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). Any food that contains less then 7 percent alcohol FDA supervises that food. According to FDA, if alcohol is the part of the food composition/formula, than alcohol must be included on the label as an ingredient, (ingredients listed on the food labels are always in descending order, by weight/volume). If alcohol is a part of other ingredients, i.e., flavor, and it is less than 0.5 percent by volume, than it comes under incidental ingredients. Some incidental additives are present in a food at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in the food are exempt from food labeling requirements. Most of the flavors are extracted with different solvents (alcohols). These flavors may have a very minimum residual alcohol in it,but this level is insignificant. It is very difficult to remove 100% solvent from these flavors. Alcohol content of foods and beverages is not required to be listed on the nutrition panel. However, some alcoholic beverages, such as light beers and wine coolers, provide information about the amount of calories, carbohydrate, protein, and fat they contain.(6) ATF has a policy that permits the use of the words "non-alcoholic" and "alcoholic- free" to describe wine and malt beverages of less than 0.5 percent alcohol. ATF also requires that the qualifier "contains less than 0. 5 percent alcohol by volume" accompany any use of the word non-alcoholic. FDA, which regulates de-alcoholized wine, agrees with the use of the term "non-alcoholic" despite the half-percent maximum because a number of foods and drinks, has traces of alcohol in them. But FDA objects to the term "alcohol-free" because it implies that all alcohol has been removed when that may not be the case.(2)

The word 'liqueur' is derived from the Latin lique facere, meaning 'to melt' or to dissolve'. The liqueur, as a drink, has elements that must be dissolved or blended together to produce the final sweetened spirit. They are the most exotic and often the most expensive alcoholic beverages, sometime called "Cordials." Liqueurs were formerly produced using traditional codes of practice, but now the classification of liqueurs is more well defined. Under European Economic Community (EEC) Council Regulation 1576/89, a liqueur is defined as:"A spirit drink having a minimum sugar content of 100 g/l (as invert) produced by flavoring Ethyl Alcohol of agricultural origin, or a distillate of agricultural origin or one or more spirit drinks, sweetened, and possibly with the addition of products of agricultural origin such as cream, milk, or other milk products, fruit, wine, or flavored wine."

In the USA under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) regulations, cordials and liqueurs are defined as:"Products obtained by mixing or re-distilling distilled spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants or pure juices therefrom, or other natural flavoring materials, or with extracts derived from infusions, percolation or maceration of such materials and containing sugar, dextrose or levulose, or a combination thereof in an amount not less than 2.5% by weight of the finished product." There is, therefore,
a major difference in the classification of liqueurs east and west of the Atlantic. In United Kingdoms, a liqueur defines as "sweetened spirits". In France, liqueurs are sometimes referred to as digestives.

Although liqueurs vary widely in composition, there are basic ingredients common to all products, i.e., alcohol, sugar and flavoring. The alcohol (ethanol) may be derived from a variety of sources and be neutral (as 96% molasses or grain spirit (v/v) or flavored such as whiskies (y), rum, brandy or any other fermented and distilled carbohydrate's source.The sweetness of liqueurs can be derived from several sources. These include crystalline sugars, liquid sugars, honey, grapes must, etc. The added flavoring for liqueurs can originate from many sources. Basically, these include herbs, barks, woods, roots, flowers, seeds, fruit, and flavor extracts of any of these individually or in combination (7).

Many of the formulations used for liqueurs are closely guarded secrets.There is very little published material on the composition of liqueurs. This is in part due to the confidential nature of such product formulations and also their complexity. Under current US and European regulation the flavorof some liqueurs is now required to be derived entirely from 'natural sources and there is a greater move toward the use of natural flavorings for most major brands.

The alcoholic strength of liqueurs varies greatly depending on the product.They are legally required to contain at least 15% alcohol by volume (at 20oC) in the EEC, and may in practice contain up to 60% by volume.Most liqueurs would, however, contain 20-50% by volume. Approximately 50 million cases (9L/case) are consumed internationally
each year. There are more than 260 different types of liqueurs available (most popular). Most common liqueurs are Almond Liqueur, Apricot Liqueur, Cherry Liqueur (Cherries steeped in sweetened brandy), Chocolate Liqueur (after dinner drinks that replicates the flavor of chocolate mints), Cream Liqueurs, Creme de Cafe (Coffee), etc.

Cream Liqueurs
A cream liqueur is an alcoholic beverage containing emulsified milk fat. The first of the new generation of cream liqueurs which now dominate the market is manufactured in Ireland and marketed under the name Baily's Irish Cream. Similar products are now manufactured in several countries. A standard definition of a cream liqueur does not exit internationally and since there can be wide variation in the composition of liqueurs from different manufacturers only the broadest technical definitiois possible.(7)

Following is a typical cream liqueur composition. Most of the major liqueurs approximate the typical composition. Composition of a typical cream liqueur

Milk fat 16%
Sugar 20%
Sodium Caseinate 3%
Non-fat milk solids 1%
Total solid 40%
Ethanol 14%
Water 46%
Percentage values are on a w/w basis

Chocolate Liquor
Chocolate liquor which called Cocoa Liquor is obtained by the grinding of cocoa nibs from the cocoa beans. The liquor converts into cocoa powder and cocoa butter as end products. It is a primary ingredient in chocolate manufacture. This liquor is non alcoholic. Therefore, Muslims should not worry about it.

Vinegar is literally a result of souring of wine. The origin of vinegar no doubt followed the production of wine, because of a bad batch of wine will result in some form of vinegar.Vinegar is simply a dilute solution of acetic acid that contains coloring and flavoring agents in very small quantities. Vinegar is formed in nature whenever sugars such as those in fruit juices are fermented to alcohol and then exposed to air. The spontaneous oxidation or fermentation of alcohol to vinegar is very slow and produces tiny quantities of vinegar.This process is much faster in the presence of natural vinegar- forming bacteria. These bacteria convert alcohol to vinegar fast enough to yield useful quantities of vinegar. Acetic acid bacteria are harmless bacteria that are always present in the air, in the soil, and on most fruit and vegetables. By definition in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration recognizes six types of vinegar, distinguished by their source: Cider Vinegar, Wine Vinegar, Malt Vinegar, Sugar Vinegar, Glucose Vinegar, and Spirit Vinegar. The last type is made from distilled grain alcohol. Vinegar must contain no less than 4 grams of acetic acid per 100 milliliters.

Definitions of the five principal vinegars used in processing in the United States are:

Distilled White Vinegar
Produced from the natural fermentation of alcohol to vinegar. The vinegar is filtered and polished for crystal clarity. The natural, mellow aroma and flavor make distilled white vinegar an excellent choice for pickling and condiment manufacture.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Produced from the fermentation of natural, unprocessed apple juice. The vinegar retains a natural amber color and fruity flavor, which blends well with other ingredients and is widely used in pickled products.

Corn (Maize) Sugar Vinegar
Produced from the fermentation of natural corn sugar. First, the sugar is converted by yeast to alcohol. Then the alcohol is fermented to an ambercolored vinegar whose flavor and aroma complement pickled products.

Wine Vinegar
Produced from Burgandy wines or grapes that are fermented to a vinegar that retains a ruby color and wine-like flavor. There is red wine vinegar, which has a rose to deep red color, and white wine vinegar, which has a pale yellow to off-white color. It is used in salad dressings, gourmet condiments, marinades and sauces.

Malt Vinegar
Produced from the fermentation of malt or barley. In vinegar making process, usually all the alcohol is oxidized to acetic acid or in other words all the alcohol is converted into vinegar. Therefore, commercial vinegar should not have any alcohol left in it. Wine vinegar may have some wine in it, since flavor usually dissolved in wine.

Uses of Vinegar

Although there are many hundreds of uses of vinegar throughout the food field, the principal categories of consumption are: Retail bottled vinegar for home, restaurant, and institution use (24%); manufacture of pickles (20) ; Salad dressings, including mayonnaise (12%); tomato products, including catsup (9%); mustards (8%); miscellaneous food products (27%). Vinegar also used as a flavoring agent, food preservation agent, and even as medicine.

Most perfumes contain S.D. alcohol. That means perfume contains ethyl alcohol, but this alcohol is being denatured by using some denaturing substances. Denaturing substances are very difficult to separate or remove or distillate from alcohol. Once ethyl alcohol is denatured, it cannot be safely used for drinking purposes. Again this alcohol is always used externally on the body.


From the above discussion, it is clear all alcohols and liquors are not same. Some are intoxicants and some are not. Often, alcohol and liquor are used simply as a description. Therefore, Muslims should not be confused or worried with terminology. However, if any intoxicant liquor or alcohol is used in any product then we should avoid that product. In Islam, all intoxicants are Haram whether they are in liquid, solid or in any other form and in any quantity.


1. Grossman, H. J. 1983. Definitions In "Grassman's Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits." 7th Ed. Charles Scribner's Son. N.Y. pp. 4

2. Miller R. W. 1986. Beer, nonalcoholic wine: how close to the real thing? FDA Consumer. Dept. Of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, Office of Public Affairs, Rockville, MD. pp.12-13.

3. Larsen J. 1995. Ask the Dietitian. Hopkins Technology , LLC. 421 Hazel Lane, Hopkins MN.

4. United States. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Standards and Labeling Division. 1993. Standards and Labeling Policy Book. Complete Update. U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Regulatory Programs, Standards and Labeling Division, Washington, D.C. pp. 252.

5. CFR. 1995. Code of Federal Regulation. Alcohol, Tobacco Products and Fireman. No. 27. Parts 1 to 199. Published by Office of the Federal Register National Archives and Records Administration.

6. Saltos, E. 1993. Focus on Food Labeling. An FDA Consumer Special Report. FDAConsumer. Dept. Of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Rockville, MD. pp. 63.

7. Cassava, A. Liqueurs. Encyclopedia of Food Science , Food Technology and Nutrition. Vol. 4. Academic Press. N. Y. pp 2751-2760.


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