I'm looking to try a marinade recipe I found recently that calls for tequila. However one of my friends is unable to consume alcohol. What would be a good flavorful liquid to use? I'm looking for a flavor that is fairly similar or at least somewhat close.

Here's the recipe I'm looking to make courtesy of Alton Brown


  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup packed cilantro leaves
  • 2 limes, zested
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1 pound tilapia fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


Put the garlic, cilantro, lime zest, cumin, salt, and pepper in a small food processor bowl and pulse until combined, approximately 20 seconds. With the processor running, add the tequila. Put the tilapia fillets into a 1 gallon resealable bag, add the garlic mixture and move around to coat each fillet. Set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat an electric nonstick griddle to 375 degrees F.

Brush the griddle with the olive oil. Cook the fillets until just cooked through and opaque about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cut into strips and serve in warm tortillas with crema, shredded red cabbage and lime wedges.

  • 3
    I wish I had a good sugestion for you, unfortunately I don't. I do want to comment that the "alcohol cooks out" story I had often heard in the past is probably not accurate. I don't have a primary source, but cooking.cdkitchen.com/AHealthyBite/385.html has an article that does reference peer reviewed statistics on how much alcohol remains after cooking.
    – Al Crowley
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 16:20
  • 3
    could you edit your question to add the recipe please? that will give us a better sense of substitutions that could be made.
    – daniel
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 17:31
  • 1
    Good idea. I've gone ahead and done so.
    – Covar
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 19:17
  • 1
    Here's a question regarding how alcohol cooks away: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/659/cooking-away-alcohol
    – Dinah
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 21:51
  • 3
    alcohol will never fully cook away. Alton Brown covers this. I have made this recipe skip it and it will be good. Its going to be used as a solvent but you wont be missing too much. for flavor you could add a little bit of agave.
    – crtjer
    Commented Jul 24, 2010 at 5:21

4 Answers 4


The tequila probably plays two roles in the recipe: as flavor and as a solvent. The alcohol in the tequila will dissolve certain components in spices that water or oil do not. On the flavor side, tequila is basically a floral smell, so (and sniff together before you say no) why not try rose essence and honey with maybe a tiny bit of some cinnamon. You can find cooking rose water in ethnic food stores. It is used in Persian and Indian cooking.

  • 7
    Be wary of essences and extracts: they are often mostly alcohol as well. Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 17:12
  • 2
    Rose water will typically be alcohol free because it is sold to groups that prefer not to consume alcohol.
    – papin
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 21:41

(yes, I know, this isn't really an answer)

Alcohol is often used as a solvent -- there are a number of flavorful chemicals that are alcohol soluble, and so the alcohol will help the flavors meld better. As such, you might be able to mimic qualities of the flavor of the alcohol, but you'll be lacking a critical process that might require you to adjust other aspects of the recipe to compensate (eg, adding more herb or spices, as their flavor won't come through as well; letting food sit longer for the flavors to meld).

update : I should mention, as I didn't raise this issue in the discussion of wine substitutes -- for wine, you're often reducing the wine for sauces to (try to) remove the alcohol but intensify the flavor of the wine; with a vodka sauce, you're trying to extract extra flavors from the tomatoes and looking for no flavor contribution from the alcohol. Wine will act as a solvent, but it's typically not the primary role or as singificant.


Tequila substitute – In a Southwestern type of a marinade, Cactus juice or nectar. If I’m making a recipe that calls for a small bit of tequila, I sometimes use a squirt or two of lime, instead. If the recipe already has lime, I’ll just leave the tequila out. In a marinade I might add a dash of white vinegar.


In this case, with this marinade, I would say water should work pretty well. It won't be as floral, but it will still taste pretty good! Nobody will notice that the tequila is missing unless you tell them.

If you want to change the flavor a bit, but 'juice it up' for the tilapia since you've lost the tequila flavor, I would recommend adding some preserved lemons in. Of course, those take a long time to make, so this might not be very practical for you, but preserved lemons have a fantastic and interesting flavor that would go nicely here.

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