What is Zero-Proof Tequila Actually Made From?
Non-alcoholic spirits have emerged as one of the hottest trends of 2023. Between mocktails, “sober curious” drinkers and Dry January, the industry has successfully courted a new type of consumer that would otherwise pay it no mind.
A number of brands have capitalized on the zeitgeist by creating non-alcoholic versions of the world’s fastest-growing spirit, tequila. On the shelf, you’ll find Lyre’s Agave Blanco, Spiritless Jalisco 55, Fluere Smoked Agave (tastes like mezcal) alongside dozens more. Character actor Danny Trejo recently got in on the action with his latest imprint, Trejo’s Tequila Alternative.
But what are these teetotalling spirits actually made from?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s usually not agave. Rather, these beverages are a chemistry-like concoction of salts, acids and flavorings carefully assembled to imitate the real thing.
A Peak Behind the Curtain
Ritual Zero Proof Tequila — owned by spirits juggernaut Diageo — is perhaps the most recognizable name in the category. On its website, the brand lists off an assortment of familiar and unrecognizable ingredients: filtered water, natural flavors, cane sugar, citric acid, xanthan gum, salt, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate.
On the back of Trejo’s Tequila Alternative, you’ll find a similar but slimmer list: water, sugar, natural flavor, potassium sorbate and citric acid.
In addition to water and sugar, we can safely assume that citric acid and potassium sorbate are the building blocks of non-alcoholic spirits (they regularly appear in all manner of non-alcoholic gins, rums, etc).
But are these the ingredients that imbue faux-alcoholic flavor?
Most likely. Citric acid is regularly used in sodas, teas, juices and cocktails to add a sour, tangy flavor not unlike the bite of a good alcoholic spirit. On the other hand, potassium sorbate is a salt-like food preservative used to inhibit mold and yeasts in dairy (McDonald’s milkshakes), wines and hard seltzers. Though the ingredient may add some booze-like zing, it’s probably included to ensure that no alcohol develops within the bottle.
Last but not least comes the ambiguous mention of “natural flavor.” This is, of course, a phrase you’ll find everywhere. But with an ingredients list so low, one is left to wonder what exactly does the heavy lifting within zero-proof spirits.
This is a question we don’t have the answer to. But we’d love to find out.
Just as how the plant-based meat industry discovered a wide variety of proteins, glutens and soy to make its product “click,” the zero-proof spirits industry is surely working overtime to find and create unforeseen ingredients that’ll bring its beverage closer and closer to the real thing.
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