Alcohol-free, non-alcoholic & low alcohol defined

Escrito por Simon Difford

Alcohol-free, non-alcoholic & low alcohol defined image 1

Across Europe, the USA, and much of the world, 'alcohol-free' means anything under 0.5% alcohol by volume. We (Difford's Guide) also consider drinks at 0.5% alcohol by volume or less to be alcohol-free.

Many lemonades, ginger beers, kombuchas, fruit juices and even vinegar, bananas, bread and other foodstuffs contain up to 0.5% alcohol by volume (alc./vol.). However, there is no requirement to declare this alcohol content on the label as they are categorised as 'soft drinks' or 'foods'. Fermentation produces alcohol, so even ripe bananas tend to contain 0.2 to 0.4% alc./vol.; the riper bananas get, the higher their alcohol content. And as for soy sauce, that's often as high as 2% alc./vol..

Even products labelled '0.0' may contain up to 0.03% alc./vol. as it is almost impossible to guarantee 0.0%.

It is simply not true to say, "Non-alcoholic' drinks don't contain alcohol." They often do!

You cannot become intoxicated by eating bananas or drinking 0.5% alcohol drinks as your body will process the alcohol quicker than you can consume it. In 200 ml of drink at 0.5% alc./vol., there is a mere 1 ml of pure alcohol (330 ml would be 1.65 ml), but the average human can process about 10 ml (8 grams) of alcohol per hour.

As stated above, beers with 0.5% or less alcohol in much of the world may be labelled 'alcohol-free'. Indeed, such beers imported into the UK can also be sold as 'alcohol-free'. Perversely, UK-brewed beers are expected to be below 0.05% to be labelled alcohol-free. (Even in the UK, an alcohol license is not needed to sell products with 0.5% or less alcohol, and no duty is payable on beer that doesn't exceed 1.2% alc./vol..)

Bonkers UK government guidelines for labelling have three categorisations that apply to drinks produced in the UK:

  • Alcohol-free: no more than 0.05% alc./vol.
  • De-alcoholised: no more than 0.5% alc./vol.
  • Low alcohol: no more than 1.2% alc./vol.

It would be more sensible if these "guidelines" conformed to the rest of the world, so any product with less than 0.5% alc./vol. were labelled 'alcohol-free'.

Low alcohol

The term 'low alcohol' means no more than 1.2% alc./vol. and is commonly used for beers and wines. The following may help you gauge how this level of alcohol may relate to how much you can consume without becoming intoxicated.

  • 330 ml of 1.2% alc./vol. low alcohol beer contains 3.95 ml (3.1 grams) of pure alcohol.
  • 440 ml of 1.2% alc./vol. low alcohol beer contains 5.35 ml (4.2 grams) of pure alcohol.
  • US pint (16 oz) of 1.2% alc./vol. low alcohol beer contains 5.73 ml (4.5 grams) of pure alcohol.
  • UK pint (568 ml) of 1.2% alc./vol. low alcohol beer contains 6.88 ml (5.4 grams) of pure alcohol.
  • 750 ml of 1.2% alc./vol. low alcohol wine contains 6.88 ml (9.4 grams) of pure alcohol.

Remember, you should be able to process around 10ml (8 grams) of alcohol per hour.

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Warning

If you are pregnant or need to avoid alcohol due to underlying health issues, you should be aware of the above and look closely at the amount of alcohol a product contains when stated.

The values above should be viewed as an approximation.

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