Record #128 in: Food Preparation
What should be considered when cooking with alcohol?
Before cooking with alcohol, there are a few important things to consider. One is the fact that not all of the alcohol is burnt or evaporated off during the cooking process. Two, is that alcohol can erupt unexpectedly into flames in the oven. Three, the alcohol retained in the food adds calories. Finally, alcohol that is retained in food may affect some individuals.
In 1992, a team of researchers from the University of Idaho, Washington State University, and the United States Department of Agriculture set out to determine whether alcohol that boils at a lower point than water, would cook out entirely when exposed to heat. What they found was that this assumption did not hold true.
Their study involved examining the alcohol lost in six different food preparation methods. These preparation methods included applying no heat, refrigerating overnight, adding alcohol to a hot sauce, flaming, oven baking, simmering for a short time, and simmering for a long time. (Augustin, et al.)
Alcohol retention ranged between 4% and 85%. The differences are associated with the degree of severity of heat treatment. With the exception of the flaming method, all other methods attributed their alcohol loss to evaporation. The extent of alcohol loss was largely determined by the conditions favorable to evaporation. Alcohol loss from the flaming method was mostly due to combustion. (Augustin, et al.)
“Cooking times had the greatest impact on alcohol retention. Flaming a dish results in much smaller losses of alcohol than cooking. Uncooked and briefly cooked dishes had the highest alcohol retention. Alcohol retention during cooking
was also affected by the size of the cooking vessel. The smaller the cooking vessel the greater the amount of alcohol retained. This was most likely due to a smaller surface area for evaporation.” (Cunningham & Marcason)
Alcohol remaining after preparation:
100% Immediate consumption
85% Added to boiling liquid, removed from heat
70% Overnight storage in refrigerator
40% Baked or simmered for 15 minutes
35% Baked or simmered for 30 minutes
25% Baked or simmered for 1 hour
20% Baked or simmered for 1.5 hours
10% Baked or simmered for 2 hours
5% Baked or simmered for 2.5 hours
Alcohol is volatile and cooking with it can be risky. “Most dishes that call for an alcoholic beverage as an ingredient don’t pose a problem because they are apt to include another liquid, such as water or broth, diluting the alcohol. Combustion is more likely when the only liquid is alcohol.” (Dunne)
There are rare but not unprecedented cases of dishes containing alcohol that burst into flames and exploded in the oven. What most likely happened was the heated oven filled with alcohol vapor, which mixed with oxygen when the oven door was opened, causing the vapors to ignite and explode.
One way to prevent this from happening is to make sure the oven vent is in good working order and not blocked. Another way is to dilute the alcoholic beverage with other liquids before adding to the dish. Finally, try simmering the alcohol in an open saucepan on top of the stove before adding to the dish. This will help expel much of the alcohol vapors before being placed in a closed oven. (Dunne)
Alcohol retention in food items does contribute to increased calories per serving. Alcohol provides 6.93 kcal/g of alcohol. This is not a very easy calculation to figure as it depends on the amount and type of alcoholic beverage used, as well as the cooking method. If a person was on a very restrictive calorie diet, they may want to consult with their dietitian for more information on figuring the calorie count when cooking with alcohol.
Finally, the alcohol that is retained in food may trigger a relapse in a recovering alcoholic. It may also, have a negative effect on a person with sensitivity to alcohol, or a person taking medication that might react to alcohol if they consume this food. Other individuals that should not consume food-retaining alcohol are children, pregnant or lactating women. There are also, adults who avoid alcohol by personal choice. Remember it is always wise to inform your guest that alcohol was used in making a certain dish so that they can decide for themselves or their children whether or not they will eat that item.
The following links offer additional information on cooking with alcohol:
Cooking with Wine by Robert L. Wolke
Washington Post - September 29, 2004
Cooking with wine: Non-Alcohol Substitutions – Recipetips .com
It Boil Down to This: Cheap Wine Works Fine by Julia Moskin
New York Times – March 21, 2007
Substitutes for Alcohol in Cooking – Gourmet Sleuth.com
Augustin, J., Augustin, E., Cutrufelli RL., Hagen, SR., Teitzel, C. (1992). Alcohol retention in food preparation. Journal of the American Dietetic. April 1992. Vol. 92, Iss. 4; pg. 486
Cunningham, E., Marcason, W. (2002) Does the alcohol used in cooking burn off completely? Journal of The American Dietetic Association. April 2002, Vol. 102, No. 4; pg. 538
Dunne, M. (2007) Cooking with alcohol calls for extra care. The Sacramento Bee. February 14, 2007.
Written by Marci Johnson
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