How Much Alcohol is Actually in Fruit Juice?

orange slices floating in air with a straw.

A did-you-know fact that the internet keeps getting wrong.

No, Your Orange Juice Doesn’t Have That Much Alcohol In It

“Did you know that orange juice contains a little alcohol?”

“Did you know that non-alcoholic beer has less alcohol than grape juice/bananas/bread?”

The general point in these factoids is true—many food and drink products can contain a small, but non-zero amount of alcohol. The details, however, are not so straightforward. A surprising number of articles about this topic are unhelpful at best, or (more often) just downright incorrect in how they calculate the amount of alcohol found in unexpected places.

Many questions tend to appear surrounding this topic: if these foods and drinks have alcohol in them, can you get drunk on them? How much alcohol is really in there? Are they safe to consume? Why do they have alcohol anyway? Get your lab coat on; we’re going to answer all of these and more today.

TL;DR

How Much Alcohol is in Fruit Juice?

Want to learn more? Read on for the science, statistics, and infuriating inaccuracies of everyone else’s reporting.


Where Does Alcohol Come From?

Before we can talk about how much or how little alcohol is found in everyday “alcohol-free” beverages, we need a brief starter on how alcohol is produced across the board, and why it pops up in drinks that aren’t intentionally alcoholic.

Fermentation

Alcohol—more specifically ethanol, the kind of alcohol that’s found in our alcoholic beverages—is produced when yeast consumes sugar and releases ethanol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation! The yeast (a type of fungus) can be found naturally in the environment, or it can be added manually. Once upon a time, most alcoholic beverages were brewed through spontaneous fermentation with naturally-occurring yeasts (found on grains, the skins of grapes, apples, etc.). Now, we usually add particular strains of yeast for their specific fermenting characteristics.

top of a glass of beer.

To illustrate the ease of alcohol production, foreshadow the next part of this deep dive, and make a tangential point about why Prohibition failed in the US, here is the general recipe for making naturally-fermented wine:

grapes held in hands.

Recipe for Natural Wine

  1. Acquire grapes
  2. Crush grapes
  3. Let crushed grapes sit with their natural yeast (fermentation)
  4. Pour into bottles

Want some natural cider instead?

Recipe for Natural Cider

  1. Acquire apples
  2. Press apples
  3. Let pressed apples sit with their natural yeast (fermentation)
  4. Pour into bottles

Commercial production of these drinks involves some more steps, time, and detail, but the general process is still incredibly simple. Even conventional alcoholic beverages (i.e. with yeast manually added) only have a few extra steps (broadly speaking), which mostly focus on clarification and consistency.

Alcohol in “Non-Alcoholic” Fruit Juice

You might start to see where this is going at this point: cut out the fermentation step from the above process, and you basically have plain old fruit juice. Commercial juices will usually undergo pasteurization to kill natural microbes; a process which lengthens shelf-life and generally prevents fermentation. Yet, a tiny amount of alcohol can form prior to the pasteurization process, and/or it can form after a bottle is opened, when the juice is exposed to the natural microbes in the air. Basically, yeast loves to find sugar and make alcohol, even when nobody asked it to. 


How Much Alcohol is in Fruit Juice?

Now that we know how and why there is alcohol in fruit juice, we can answer the more pressing questions: How much alcohol is in fruit juice? Is it safe to drink? Can you get drunk on it?

And this is where we reach the research that so many outlets either interpret incorrectly or don’t interpret at all: the famous German Study, formally known as Estimates of Ethanol Exposure in Children from Food not Labeled as Alcohol-Containing. As far as I can tell, the researcher’s behind this study at the University of Kaiserslautern did a perfectly fine job with the science. Yet, at the time of writing this article, every single article on my first Google search result page for “how much alcohol is in fruit juice” either reports the data with the units in the study (which are practically useless to the public), or—more egregiously—they report at least some of the data incorrectly by just swapping out units without doing any conversions. This is analogous to reading that you’re 160lb on the scale, and telling your friend that you’re 160kg. That’s a difference of 193lb! (88kg)

How bad is it? The values for ABV in drinks that other articles report are around 8 times higher than the actual values. And the values for food are often in units that just don’t make sense for solids. So if you read an article that says your orange juice is 0.73% ABV on the high end, your apple juice is 0.66% ABV, and your burger rolls are 1.28% ABV, then you’re probably looking at misconverted values.

So today we are going to investigate this study and give you the real results, in a way that you can easily interpret.

What the Study Actually Says

The researchers found the amount of alcohol in two broad categories of nominally “non-alcoholic” consumables: food and drinks, aiming to find the amount of alcohol that children are exposed to everyday. Following scientific conventions, they reported the alcohol in the liquids in grams of pure ethanol per liter of solution (g/L), and in the food in grams of pure ethanol per 100g of the food (g/100g). This is all fine and good, until you start to interpret these results for the general public.

The most common measure of alcohol we use in day to day life is percentage Alcohol By Volume, or ABV. In the US, we also have Proof, which is simply a doubling of the ABV, because…reasons. Our measuring stick for what constitutes one Standard Drink of alcohol is: 

  • 12 fl oz (~355mL) of 5% ABV beer 
  • 5 fl oz (148mL) of 12% ABV wine
  • or 1.5 fl oz (44mL) of 40% ABV spirits

If you were to distill the alcohol in each of these drinks down into its purest form, you would find 14 grams of pure ethanol (each). That’s actually the official definition of a Standard Drink in the US: a drink that contains 14g of pure alcohol.

So if we know how many grams of alcohol are in a drink or food item, how do we convert that to an ABV value? Well, you can’t just change the units and call it a day. You have to go back to high school chemistry and do some math. If you want to check my work (something I encourage!) then check out “The Math” section down at the end of this article.

The food provides a bit more of a challenge for conversion. We can’t just say that 7g of alcohol per 100g of food is equal to 7% ABV, (even though some people have tried to run with that). Since we do know that a standard drink has 14g of alcohol, we can analyze the amount of alcohol consumed as a fraction of a standard drink. So if someone were to eat 100g of a food that had 7g of alcohol per 100g, they would consume the equivalent of  ½ of a standard drink (7/14 → 1/2). As you can see below, none of the food items got even close to that much alcohol.

The Real Numbers

Here’s the actual alcohol content of common food and drinks, converted from the units originally used in the German study.

Alcohol Content in Everyday Food and Drinks

Food/DrinkAlcohol Content
Apple Juice0.008-0.08% ABV
Orange Juice0.02-0.09% ABV
Grape Juice0.04-0.11% ABV
White Wine Vinegar0.33% ABV
Burger Rolls1.28g/100g
Rye Bread0.18g/100g
Banana (ripe)0.2g/100g
Banana (very ripe)0.4g/100g
Pear (ripe)0.04g/100g
Cherry Yogurt0.02g/100g

Gorgus, E., Hittinger, M., & Schrenk, D. (2016). Estimates of Ethanol Exposure in Children from Food not Labeled as Alcohol-Containing. Journal of analytical toxicology, 40(7), 537–542. https://doi.org/10.1093/jat/bkw046

ABV in Regular and Non-Alcoholic Beer (Comparison)

BeerAlcohol Content
Beer5% ABV (14g ethanol/12 fl oz)*
Non-Alcoholic Beer<0.5% ABV(<1.4g ethanol/12 fl oz)
*12 fl oz of 5% ABV beer has 14 grams of ethanol. Some beers may have more or less than 5% ABV

abv in everyday drinks graphs.
abv in everyday drinks graphs.

Takeaways

When we look at these ABV values, we notice that there was indeed a non-zero amount of alcohol found in these foods and drinks. However, none of them break our threshold of 0.5% ABV, which is what most governments consider as the dividing line between “non-alcoholic” and “alcoholic.” The “why” behind this being the magic number is worth a whole article to itself, but as we’ll see below, 0.5% ABV is quite a safe upper limit. For most people, a 0.4% ABV beverage may as well be 0.00000000% ABV.

Funnily enough, this whole article you’re reading started as a way to show that the amount of alcohol in “non-alcoholic” beer is really insignificant, by comparing to the amount of alcohol found naturally in fruit juice. Yet, as you’ll see in the next section, we’ve come full circle, and we’re using non-alcoholic beer to prove the safety of fruit juice.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Get Drunk Off of Fruit Juice?

In short, no. The tiny amount of alcohol in fruit juice gets processed by the average adult faster than they can consume it, so a significant blood alcohol content can’t be achieved. You’re not even going to be able to get a buzz.

How do we know this? Well, the Germans studied this too, with non-alcoholic beer*. Over the course of an hour, a (different) group of German researchers gave 78 people 1.5L (~51 fl oz, or 4+ cans) of non-alcoholic beer that contained 0.41-0.42% ABV. On the higher end of the scale, but still under 0.50% ABV. The maximum blood alcohol content detected out of anyone after the hour? 0.00056% BAC. 

For reference, the lowest BAC that will cause any noticeable effects in humans is ~0.01% (almost 18x higher). The legal driving limit in much of the US, 0.08% BAC, is almost 143x higher than the maximum value they detected. Even if you want to “what if” it and imagine slamming back 2 or 3 times as many N/A beers as they did in the study, you’re not going to get even close to that 0.01%. You would literally get sick from water intoxication (water poisoning) before you get alcohol intoxication.

All of the fruit juices previously studied had less ABV than the N/A beers tested by the latter group of researchers, so the “risk” of intoxication is—if anything—even lower with fruit juice.

It should go without saying, but this study was performed under controlled conditions. Don’t drink excessive amounts of any beverage.

Source: Thierauf, A., Große Perdekamp, M. & Auwärter, V. Maximale Blutalkoholkonzentration nach forciertem Konsum von alkoholfreiem Bier. Rechtsmedizin 22, 244–247 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-012-0835-8

Is Fruit Juice Safe to Drink?

In general, yes. The major health organizations don’t have any recommendations against adults consuming beverages with <0.5% ABV for their non-zero alcohol content. This study was created with the intention of exploring young children’s cumulative exposure to alcohol through common foods and drinks, and they found that parents should at least be aware of the potential exposures to ethanol through better labeling. However, more research is required to investigate the potential effects of these amounts of alcohol on young children, but in general it’s probably not a huge concern.

So keep an eye on your fruit juice consumption for its sugar content, but otherwise it’s pretty safe.

Can You Drink Fruit Juice While Pregnant?

Talk to your doctor. 

My initial reaction to this question is “Holy legal liability, Batman!” Reiterating our legal disclaimers, I am not a doctor. 

That being said, I can merely point out that the CDC says “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy,” but they also don’t say that you shouldn’t consume any and all juices, fruits, or bread while pregnant. So do they consider those to “contain alcohol?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ my very unofficial advice is to not overthink it, and my official advice is to check with your doctor with any concerns.

Should Alcoholics Not Drink Fruit Juice? How About People On Medication?

I’m going to punt on this one as well, referring you to the previous question. Talk to a doctor.


The Math

Here is the nitty-gritty math that we used to convert g/L of alcohol to ABV.

ABV is defined as mL of ethanol per 100mL of solution, (i.e. a percentage volume), but we have figures for density (g/L) and percentage mass (g/100g). To get to ABV from density (g/L), we need to divide our g/L by 10 to get g/100mL, since we’re looking for mL/100mL. Then we can change our grams in the top to milliliters by dividing by the density of ethanol: 0.78945 g/mL (at standard temperature and pressure).  We would then be left with a value in mL/100mL, i.e. ABV. Here is the formula all put together for converting g/L of ethanol to ABV:

ABV = (x/10)/(0.78945), where x = the density of alcohol in g/L


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