What is the Islamic view on consuming vinegar in cooking, is it the same as alcohol?

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Vinegar does not contain any intoxicating qualities and for that reason, it is not forbidden -- it is permissible (halal). Vinegar, which is used as both a flavour enhancer and a food preservative, results from the conversion of ethyl alcohol to acetic acid by acetic-acid bacteria. (Please see below for why vinegar is considered halal). Regulations in the U.S.A., for example, require that the unmodified name "vinegar" apply only to the product which has been derived from apples and that this product contain not less than 4 g of acetic acid in 100 ml of vinegar. Vinegar also contains small quantities of ash, sugars, phosphoric acid, and glycerol. A quick method of manufacture is to pour fermented apple cider containing about 10 percent alcohol over wood shavings while air is blown through the mixture. The resulting liquid is then clarified and filtered. Malt vinegar is preferred in Britain, and wine vinegar in continental Europe. The final product of this chemical process does not have any intoxicating qualities whatsoever and is therefore halal.

Vinegar may be produced from a variety of materials: apples or grapes (final product - wine vinegar or cider vinegar); malted barley or oats (final product - malt vinegar); and industrial alcohol (final product - distilled white vinegar).  The intoxicating quality is removed when vinegar is made. However, the intoxicating qualities still remain unchanged for nabeez, which is made from ripened dates and has not been put through the oxidizing and filtering process that vinegar is put through. For this reason nabeez is forbidden (haram)

The holy Prophet p.b.u.h. said:

Book 22, Number 5091: [Sahih Muslim]
Narrated A'isha: Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) said: The best of condiments or condiment is vinegar.
Book 22, Number 5093 [Sahih Muslim]:
Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: Allah's Messenger (p.b.u.h.) asked his family for a condiment. They (the members of his household)  said: We have nothing with us but vinegar. He asked for it, he began to eat it, and then said: Vinegar is a good condiment, vinegar is a good condiment.

Jurists pronouncements

The jurists agree that if wine has been left exposed to air, and has subsequently  turned to vinegar, then it is permissible (halal) at that time. The taste is the test because vinegar has a very noticeable 'sour' taste. (Bada'a 5:113 ).

If the vinegar was made by adopting certain processes such as by mixing salt with it or aerating wine and exposing it to Acetobacter bacteria, (which alters the wine completely and changes it to vinegar) such vinegar is also permissible (halal) according to the Hanafi doctors of law. However, according to some other jurists, this conversion into vinegar is unlawful (haram) (Bahar 8:219)

It has been related by Abu Hurairah that, in the days of the Prophet p.b.u.h., wine was generally made from 5 different sources: grapes, dates, wheat, barley and rye. According to the Qur'an, every intoxicating substance is "khamar" and is therefore prohibited. It is also a rule of law that if a larger amount of a certain intoxicating substance creates an intoxicated condition, then even the smallest possible quantity of the same substance, irregardless of whether or not it creates an intoxicated condition, is also forbidden (haram). However, in cases of extreme necessity, i.e., such as for medicines which have been prepared in the western countries and which contain alcohol, these medicines would be permissible (halal).

The legal principle

It is important to keep in mind the legal principle which governs such situations. This legal principle can be explained as follows: In the process of converting (i.e., changing the chemical or physical character of) one object or a thing into another object or thing depends on two distinct series of acts or changes which pass from one phase or state to another:

1. In the first type of change, the essential nature and a fundamental quality of a thing (substance) (eg. the intoxicating ability of wine) is changed to such an extent that it virtually becomes a new substance.  In Islamic legal terminology, such a change is called istihala. Since the newly transformed substance is not what it used to be anymore, it's legal status will change accordingly --  not only for external use but also for internal use. Here the legal status changes because the wine, which  is an "unclean" (najis) substance, has been changed into a "clean" substance.

2. The second type of change is like the decomposition or splitting of a thing into several parts or components. In the Fiqh (Islamic Law) terminology, it is called "tajziah". If the essence and the fundamental nature of the changed thing (eg. the intoxicating ability) remains intact or reduced but leaves traces of the original quality intact, its previous legal status remains unchanged. Accordingly, the old laws and rules applicable to its old status eg. haram (forbidden) and najis (unclean) continues. For example, if wine has been altered only to remove its colour or smell, but not its intoxicating element or quality, then the object or thing has not changed in the real sense, because as far as the legal command which relates to its unlawfulness is concerned, the essential intoxicating element has not been completely eliminated or removed.