White wine is a critical ingredient in many different dishes, particularly dishes of French, Italian, and Mediterranean descent. This amazing ingredient is crucial for adding acidity and brightness to foods, as it cooks, the alcohol burns off and the fruity freshness spills into the food. It has a fruity, piquant backbone that cuts through the richness and meatiness of other ingredients to add lift to foods and provide delightful contrast. Risotto, pasta sauces, stocks, soups, sauces for fish and meats, and braising liquids are just a few of the numerous foods that employ the lightening power of white wine.
Not only is white wine an essential flavoring ingredient, but it is also paramount to the structure of many popular dishes. White wine is often used to deglaze, releasing caramelized bits of flavor from the pan, it is reduced to form the foundation of sauces like beurre blanc, and is often utilized as an agent in poaching liquids like court bouillon.
However, for as wonderful and versatile as white wine is, sometimes it’s not available. Maybe you’re making a sumptuous asparagus risotto and when you open the fridge, you realize you don’t have any on hand or perhaps you simply just prefer not to keep any in the house. That’s all well and good because fortunately, there are a number of ingredients that can substituted in place of white wine to achieve almost the same result.
White Wine Substitute
Before I get into specific ingredients that can be used to replace white wine, it’s important to explain how and why white wine is used in cooking. When you cook with white wine, you’re adding three principal flavors: acidity, fruitiness, and a hint of sweetness. Thus, you want to pick things in place of white wine that add these elements. Remember as well that most cooking white wine is on the drier side, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chablis, or dry Chardonnay.
So, you need to make sure that any substitute for white wine is not too sweet. Finally, keep in mind that white wine in cooking is not always just for flavor, in some cases like making a beurre blanc sauce, the fluid volume of the wine itself is also pivotal to the structure of the dish and making sure it doesn’t get too dry. In that case, you need enough liquid to actually replace the amount of wine that would have been put in, not just something to replace the flavor. With that being said, here are some of the best ingredients to substitute for white wine in cooking.
Lemon Juice and Zest
More so than any other ingredient, lemon can take the place of white wine. As is mentioned above, the most important things white wine adds to food is acidity and fruitiness. A combination of lemon juice and zest is the best thing to add those two flavors. Lemon is particularly adept at replacing white wine in risottos, pasta sauces, and sauces for meat and fish.
Light Vinegars: White Wine, Apple Cider, White Balsamic
Vinegar is the closest thing to wine without actually being wine. White wine vinegar is literally white wine that has sat too long, so it carries many of the same attributes and complexities of white wine. Cider vinegar and white balsamic are slightly more acidic than white wine vinegar but as they are made from fruit and aged, they still have similar flavor qualities to white wine. Anywhere you might be adding wine to a dish to cook out, such as risotto, pasta sauce, in the base of a soup, or in a sauce for meat or fish, a light vinegar can be subbed in. Just remember that vinegar is much more acidic than wine, so you would add much less vinegar.
Fruit Juices: Apple and Grape
Apple and grape juice can supply the same fruitiness that white wine lends to dishes. As fruit juice is not overly acidic, you can also use it in similar proportions to replace white wine in dishes where you would use a lot of wine, such as reducing wine for a beurre blanc or heavily deglazing a roasting skillet. However, fruit juice is also very sweet, so to balance out the sweetness, you could add a little water to dilute it and a splash of vinegar or lemon to supply some counterbalance.
This is a bit of an oddball, but ginger ale can sometimes be used in place of white wine in cooking as it has a similar dry, semi-sweet flavor. If there is a recipe that calls for a sweeter wine such as a Riesling, ginger ale could be subbed in. But once again, you may need to add a little vinegar to make sure it’s not too sweet.
Sometimes you just need some liquid to take the place of white wine in a recipe. If you have a braise or something that calls for a bigger quantity of wine, you can sub in a light vegetable or chicken stock to ensure the dish isn’t too dry. It will not have the same flavor as white wine, but you can always add a little vinegar or citrus for some lift.
Herbs: Thyme, Parsley, Basil, Rosemary, Oregano, Mint, Scallion, Bay Leaf
While adding herbs may not add the liquid your dish needs from white wine, they may be able to add some of the flavor. Many of these herbs actually come across in tasting notes of certain white wines, especially some grassier, more herbaceous wines like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. So, to replace some of that herbaceous flavor, actual herbs can be used.
Finally, if all else fails, you can just use water. Obviously, the flavor in your recipe might be compromised some, but at least adding water will keep the dish from drying out. You can always supplement the water with herbs, spices, citrus, or vinegar to add flavor.