How much alcohol does cooking remove?

26 September 2017

Question

When you cook food with any alcohol how much, if any, percentage of the alcohol stays behind?

Answer

Alex - I asked Vayu Maini Rekdal from Harvard University to turn up the heat on Zettie’s question…

Vayu - Alcohol containing ingredients are really prized for their ability to impart complex flavours and aroma. Many people when they cook with alcohol actually assume that cooking completely evaporates the alcohol because the alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. But, contrary to popular belief, a significant amount of alcohol could actually remain at the end of the cooking process. This is important to consider when you serve dishes to people who may need to control their alcohol intake.

Alex - Wait… so my coq au vin can still get me drunk? How do we know this?

Vayu - Most of what we know about cooking with booze comes from a 1992 study in which researchers measured the alcohol levels at the end of cooking a number of different dishes including orange chicken, and scallop oysters. Each recipe represented a different way that we might add alcohol to cooking - quick flaming to simmering food for many hours. They found that, in general, the final alcohol percentage depends on time, on temperature, the starting concentration of alcohol, and the size of the pan.

Alex - So which culinary techniques are the most effective at purging alcohol?

Valumini - Flaming a dish retained 78% of the starting alcohol, contrary to the belief that flaming would burn away all of the alcohol. Simmering for 10 minutes removed only 40% of the alcohol but if you simmered for longer, say 2½ hours, it got rid of 95%. So those worried about their alcohol intake should maybe consider slow cooking.

Alex - Any other tips for those looking to avoid getting “sauced” on “sauce?”

Viyu - Well, with simmering, the final percentage depended not only on the time but also on the surface area of the pan. A wider pan removes way more alcohol. But, in general, while the amounts of alcohol in dishes is usually very low, predicting the final percentage in your dish is not a simple task, which also means it’s hard to know how recovering alcoholics will respond to different dishes with alcohol. However, it’s overall safe to say that the perception that alcohol is removed with cooking is a complete myth Science tells a different story.

Alex - So, if you’re cooking for a teetotaller, best to play it safe and keep the wine for another time.  Thanks to Vayu Maini Rekdal for serving that up.

Next time: we’ll be buzzing about John’s question...

We know that flies process movement much quicker than humans, which is why it’s really hard to swat them. But is it true that if you move slow enough then the fly will not register the movement and, therefore, you can actually get it...?


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