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Non-alcoholic drinks that pair nicely with food

I jumped on the wagon yesterday as part of my training for a half-marathon Mother's Day weekend. I *always* have wine with my dinner and it's this issue that's my biggest challenge. I've seen a plethora of recipes for mocktails (virgin daiquiris, mojitos, punches, etc), but I'm looking for something that would be more food friendly. Right now my two best options are iced tea and sparkling water or soda spiked with bitters and lime.

I was wondering if the 'hounds might have some interesting suggestions. TIA!

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  1. I drink orange juice + ginger ale alllllllll the time.

    1. You could do a sparkling juice.

      I prefer plain water with my dinner (unless I'm having wine) most of the time.

      1 Reply
      1. re: boogiebaby

        One of our daughters is pregnant and I've used the French sparkling fruit juices.

      2. Ginger beer is no alcoholic and would taste great with a number of asian dishes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: carrytheone

          Ginger Beer tastes great with West Indian dishes, too.

        2. not an exact answer to your question, but

          regarding tea:
          my current roommate is chinese, and whenever he returns from a trip to china he brings home a package of green tea for me.

          all i have to say is that there is tea and then there is tea.
          i've discovered that there is a HUGE range of flavors in just one type of green tea.

          if all you do is stick to tea, you have a lot of tea discovery in front of you.

          1 Reply
          1. re: westsidegal

            Green tea is wonderful and full of antioxidants.
            The younger the leaf the more caffeine, and usually the amount is quite high.
            I find the health benefits of NOT drinking caffeine much more desirable these days, especially when exercising the way the OP is describing.

          2. A while back I bought a half ounce of saffron. After a year or so and making only minimal progress on the huge pile, I started using it as a flavoring for mineral water. It's interesting and goes with a fairly wide variety of foods. Definitely a change from fruit flavored water.

            1. Try getting a soda stream. There are so many different things you can make with it.


              1. Hmm, are you trying to find a non-alcoholic drink to pair with your meals as an additional way to hydrate?

                If so, might I suggest that you simply drink a glass of water about an hour before eating.

                If it's just a beverage for palate lubrication, then a judiciously poured glass of water, more gravy or sauces, or a combination of both would probably do the trick.

                Also see: Soup.

                1. Chicha morada or agua de Jamaica (really easy to make).

                  1. I love sparkling water- it feels more like a "drink" than plain tap water.

                    Try adding a saueeze of fresh lemon, or make a simple tea pouring hot water over fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, basil and then cool. Add a splash to your lemon sparkling water, serve in a wine glass.
                    I love ginger and make a lemon ginger super strong tea that i then add to sparkling water, i keep a larger container of the concentrate in the fridge.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      sparkling water is a great way to avoid the calories of beer and still get a sizzle

                    2. Well, if you have a soda stream or even just sparkling water out of the bottle, you could always mix in some flavor(ing).

                      I like my water bubbly and filtered, no flavors necessary (especially with food), but that might help.

                      A dash of cloudy apple juice that isn't too sweet or cranberry juice might be a low-sugar option.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: linguafood

                        The pucker of unsweetened or lightly sweetened cranberry or sour cherry juice is a good analog to the tannin in red wine. I prefer diluting either juice with sparkling water. Mostly, though, I go with tonic water as a sub for white wine. I like the astringency. Agua fresca is another good choice, particularly with melon, rhubarb, and/or cucumber.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          I find most commercial tonic waters too sweet.

                          Apfelschorle (apple juice & sparkling water), however, is a hugely popular summer drink in Germany & I love it a lot.

                          There, you can even buy it premixed in bottles, but of course it's just as easy to mix to one's own preference of ratio.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            I really liked that Pom pomegranate juice with seltzer.
                            Might be perfect for the OP since its reported to help speed recovery time between workouts so you are less sore...

                          2. re: linguafood

                            That's my go-to non-alcoholic drink - 2/3 seltzer, 1/3 good quality cranberry juice. Even better if you start with lime-flavored seltzer.

                          3. Have you tried any of the slightly fermented sodas like Cascal or 12Noon to Midnight. I haven't, but they're always pitched as being designed to accompany food.

                            I think a slightly diluted buttermilk, served ice cold, maybe with a sprinkling of flake salt and cayenne, can make for a really nice beverage with some meals.

                            1. I no longer drink alcohol, but, of course, I still consume liquid beverages.

                              There is a temptation among people who, for whatever reason, have quit drinking to try to replicate the experience of drinking, minus the effect of alcohol. Mostly that involves trying to mimic the taste. But I personally find that it is more satisfying to experience what else is out there, in the same way that I find vegetarian dishes more satisfying when they aren't trying to mimic the experience of eating meat.

                              However, if you must have that flavor, there are a few options. Though they're hard to find, there are grape juices made with actual wine grapes that are more reminiscent of the flavor of wine than a Welch's-style juice. And there are a few non-alcoholic beers that are passable (I like Kaliber). Sorry that non-alcoholic wines are generally not very good.

                              I always keep a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge, and it is my go-to beverage for meals. Sometimes iced coffee, depending on what I'm eating. I usually drink tea and coffee black, but once in a while I'll mix it up with sugar, maybe milk, maybe lemon (for the tea), etc. There are also, as has been said above, lots of flavors of tea to try.

                              Water is an easy and obvious choice, either plain or sparkling. And it can be fun to enhance it with a splash of lemon or lime, a bit of juice, etc. One restaurant I go to serves its water with slices of cucumber.

                              And, for what it's worth, if I find myself in a bar, my go-to "mocktail" is simply cranberry juice and tonic. Tart but refreshing.

                              1. horchata/agua frescas/refrescos with Mexican food

                                apple spritzers/blackcurrant spritzers with German/Austrian food. The German apple and blackcurrant juices are more concentrated and less sweet than North American apple juice, so the spritzers end up sweeter, with less fruit flavour when using North American juice, it seems.

                                mint tea with Mediterranean food
                                frappe (Greek-style iced coffee) with souvlaki/Greek fast food/mezes
                                Apple tea with Turkish food

                                Virgin Caesars or Virgin Marys for a savoury non-alcoholic option

                                1. I like lemon or lime sparkling water.

                                  1. kombucha. i have a could flavors i prefer (hibiscus, blood orange), and i ALWAYS water them down half and half. very refreshing over ice on a hot day.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: rmarisco

                                      Second the kombucha idea. I mix with sparkling water in 1:3 ratio (ballpark). Sometimes drop in a lemon wedge.

                                      1. Can't go wrong with ice cold filtered water with a lemon squeeze. Or lime. I like sour though. I'd drink bitter wine and pickle juice every day if I could :)

                                        3 Replies
                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Even though I believe that the tap water here in Portland, OR is clean and wholesome, most of it comes from the open reservoir system, and isn't filtered before being delivered into the public water supply.

                                            I run my drinking and cooking water through a Brita pitcher. Birds poop on my car, so I'm sure they poop in the water in the reservoirs, too. Even though the water is chlorinated, I like to filter it, too, just because.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Well, Brita filtered tap water. Just a crisper taste. Nothing wrong with unfiltered tap water, depending on where you are.

                                              I went to Mardi Gras when I was 18 around 1996 (those years are a blur). From Iowa with $270. We were of the "gutter punk" or "squatter" crowd down there, living in my '84 Ford Tempo or sleeping by the river, for 8 days. We panhandled and bummed alcohol. I filled up a 2 liter bottle once with tap water from a gas station down there in New Orleans. I couldn't see through it, yet drank it because we were so thirsty. I got sick either from that or a hangover. Anyways, that New Orleans water was nasty in the '90's -- I wouldn't know how it is in the present day.

                                          2. My default is a tall glass of iced tonic water with a squeeze of lime.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Pat Hammond

                                              Have you tried Fever Tree tonic water? It was a life changing moment (in the G&T world) for me. Quite pricey but we love it.

                                              1. re: Pat Hammond

                                                My father once said the best gin and tonic he had was when he forgot to add the gin.

                                                I like tonic mixed with cranberry or orange juice.

                                              2. I drink a fare amount of iced tea or sparkling water with bitters after meals. With my dinner, I may have something like:
                                                Diet soda
                                                Rosewater lemonade
                                                Hibiscus agua fresca
                                                Spiced buttermilk (chaas)

                                                1. Sparkling water is my usual drink with dinner. Occasionally, single variety apple juice. Or grape juice (sparkling or not). Very occasionally, I drink dealcoholised wine which, when I first went on the wagon, would have ben a very risky thing for me to do but I'm fine with now and again.

                                                  1. I don't drink any alcohol.
                                                    Diet coke: water (sparkling is better); black coffee; occasional tea; Crystal Lite (Raspberry Ice)

                                                    1. I would personally go with hot black tea. There are so many to choose from.

                                                      1. Cranberry juice with still or sparkling water, about 3/1. Slice of lemon is nice.

                                                        1. I find that when I'm not drinking alcohol it's difficult to get something that pairs well with food.

                                                          Pop and fruit juices (and mocktails) tend to be quite sweet, which I don't find the greatest match with a nice meal - your companions carefully choose a wine to go with the meal, you're deciding if orange juice or coke pairs better with seafood.

                                                          I'm fond of soda water - plain, or with a bit of cucumber, mint or cinnamon for a light flavour, or a dash of bitters. Lime soda for something stronger - juice of a lime, soda water, maybe a dash of bitters (no sugar).

                                                          Unsweetened Iced green or green + jasmine tea served fairly weak gives a nice astringent but not too heavy flavour. When it's too strong I find it overpowers the food. Iced oolong tea is quite tasty too.

                                                          I find fruit juice + tea to be more astringent and less sweet than pure fruit juice. Passion fruit green tea with lots of ice is one of my favourite summer beverages.

                                                          For a more unusual option, I find that Chinese smoked plum juice can go well with some foods. It's a distinctive taste - smoky and slightly sour - but has a depth and complexity that goes well with a meal.

                                                          For even more unusual, try the Chinese style of drinking fruit vinegars as a non alcoholic digestif. You want a small volume of that though.

                                                          1. Not in the area of mock-tail, but with regards to pairing with food, is a simple glass of milk... not just for chocolate chip cookies anymore. Adults tend to get their dairy from other sources and forget how delicious a tall glass of milk is.

                                                            Milk pairs well with savory and spicy dishes, such as Mexican and Indian cuisines. Milk really coats the palate, balancing the spiciness of the exotic food.

                                                            Milk goes with roasted foods like roasted sweet potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, beets, roasted chicken, and focaccias with caramelized shallots.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                              Really? I can only do milk for breakfast & pretty much with breakfast foods.

                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                Milk is my go-to beverage of choice for Mexican food as well, too. And sometimes I just like the taste of a nice, cold glass of whole milk.

                                                                When I'm out with people and order a glass of milk, I usually get weird looks. I've even been told on a plane that they only stocked milk "for the kiddies", when asking for it during a meal service.

                                                                I just mumble something about my doctor wanting me to get more calcium and I was out of yogurt at breakfast. No one says anything further.

                                                              2. Sparkling or still tap water, with a splash of fruit or herb infused vinegar. I believe this used to be called a "shrub". Among my faves are cherry infused and lime infused. I also make my own vinegars, starting the ferment with quince, plum, or pears; usually the leftovers from harvest canning.

                                                                1. I ordered a basil cucumber lemonade tonight that was delicious, and would be fantastic with seafood or a salad. I'll try to replicate it this summer.

                                                                  1. I drink many kinds of iced tea year round; always have. Goes great with food that isn't trad French wine sauced.
                                                                    A fav bartender makes us a delic drink with muddled basil and blueberries, topped w/ seltzer (w or w/o sugar syrup). V refreshing.

                                                                    1. What's wrong with plain ol' water? It's probably the best thing you can drink all the time, but especially if you're in training.