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Truth or Fiction: Does alcohol burn off in food?

I don't drink anymore - for health reasons and to not mix alcohol and medication. The other night I had dinner with Mrs. Beau at a Manhattan Scandinavian restaurant. I asked if the creme brulee dessert had booze in it. They said yes. Unfortunately, I assumed the Swedish meatballs did not have alcohol in the preparation. I later learned they marinated it with Brandy before mixing the meat and cooking it.

So how long does it take for alcohol to actually burn off in a dish? I've read that it can take up to 3 hours in a casserole or stew. I really enjoy a delicious Coq au Vin (chicken in red wine sauce) and a Boeuf Bourgeonne (beef in red wine sauce) but I'm leery about the alcohol content.

I can exactly smell the alcohol when a dessert is flambed so I never order that for dessert.

Can anyone dispel information about how long it takes for alcohol to burn off. I'm sure the amounts that are in the recipe also have a lot to do with the answer. Thanks,

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  1. It could take that long in a casserole but a creme brulee I wouldn't worry about. The boiling point of alcohol is 159 degrees farenheit, once it's boiled or flambed there is no remaining alcohol. Custards set well above that, like 185-190 plus with added bake time you can be assured that there is no alcohol left. The flavors accompanying the alcohol will still be there, so understandably you wouldn't want to order it. Scientifically speaking though, theres nothing left but flavored water. The dishes you mention, are braises, so they slowly perk away at well above the boiling point of alcohol, for multiple hours, rest assured they wont mess with your medication.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Scotchie

      This is not exactly true. Just like the boiling point of water can be changed (with salt/under pressure) Some alcohol is unable to vaporize because of the surrounding conditions, and so remains. Definitely look at Maria Lorraine's post below if this is a concern.

    2. Just to add to what Scotchie said, if you can smell the alcohol, it's burning off and thus is no longer in what's left to be eaten. If you're being careful, what you need to watch out for is dishes where the alcohol is added to something cold, like whipped cream, or poured over the top, like Grand Marnier and strawberries.

      1. i have heard mixed reports on this, but one thing i would consider besides the amount in the original recipe is the cooking method. maybe there's a chemist on the board who could let me know if my thinking is way off, but i would think that it's harder for the alcohol to escape if it's baked in an enclosed space. if you're cooking in an open pan on a stove, the alcohol probably evaporates more quickly.

        oooh - i just did a search and found this great chart:
        http://homecooking.about.com/library/...

        3 Replies
        1. re: arifa

          Thanks to all for your comments.

          Thank you, arifa, for the Dept. of Agriculture chart. It's very helpful for home cooking.

          Based on my past experiences in restaurants, I believe they should mention on the menu when food is cooked with wine or alcohol. As mentioned in my original post, I had no idea the restaurant used brandy in their mix of meat for Swedish meatballs. I just didn't think to ask for that dish.

          1. re: Beau711

            The acohol will never fully cook off.

        2. I love food with alcohol....wine sauces, sherry in soups etc. My french onion soup has white wine, vermouth and port! I have never felt any effect at all from eating food with alcohol in it.
          Has anyone actually felt the effects? Just curious.
          (I've heard stories of people who dont tolerate alcohol well getting a buzz from baked goods with booze in it)

          www.piealamona.blogspot.com

          2 Replies
          1. re: monavano

            Umm, some people are recovering alcoholics and perhaps a whiff of the wine aroma or uncooked alcohol just might set off a craving for a drink. This is why it's important for restaurants to be more sensitive about providing information about their dishes which contain booze.

            Personally, I have felt a little woozy when I had a souffle that was prepared with rum. The waiter told me there was no alcohol it in but he was wrong. I just can't mix alcohol and meds until the alcohol is truly burnt off.

            1. re: monavano

              Yes I had a chicken dish at a restaurant once that had red wine in it. I was very sick by the time we left....and for the next 2 days. I have no idea if it wasn't cooked long enough for the alcohol to be burned off but I won't risk it now.

            2. The alcohol will never fully cook off. There will always be the faintest trace, so if you are a recovering alcoholic, or have allergy issues with it, then you should not have anything that has been cooked with alcohol.

              OTOH, the trace that remains should not interfere with your medication. If you have questions about it, Harold McGee or Shirley Corriher would happily answer your email, I'm sure.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ChefJune

                Does the same rule apply to vanilla? I used to work with somebody who could not for religious reasons eat my baked goods if I had even used as little as a teaspoon of vanilla in them. I always thought that the alcohol would bake out and that there was probably no danger but perhaps I was wrong.

                1. re: Hooda_Guest

                  i know this is a zombie thread, but just in case:
                  Trader Joe's makes a product called COOKBOOK VANILLA that is made without alcohol

              2. Wow - what a super topic & all "educated" comments too. I'm a brand-spankin-new addict in recovery (an alcoholic) & I must agree with Beau, "a whiff of the wine aroma or uncooked alcohol just might set off a craving for a drink."

                I love to entertain & prepare foods with &/or that accompany alcohol/wine/etc. It's a new lifestyle for me & it's my recovery that must be 1st place. I didn't take into consideration for even simple pleasures like my Mother's homemade French Onion soup, which has white wine; or even better, The Lynnhaven Fishhouse (Virginia Beach) has supreme she-crab-soup & guess what's served right along the side - extra Sherry to add as you so desire. I loved adding my own - part of the fun & admittedly, I love the flavor.

                My 1st recovery program was in Havre de Grace, MD @ www.fathermatinsashley.com & they actually lectured on the importance of entertaining & eating out. The information provided was quite similar to "Scotchie's & Ruth's" comments (scientifically); however, every addict in recovery is different & triggers occur not just from a chemical reaction, but rather a flavor or scent too. To address "Monavano," I use to wonder the same thing, if one actually felt an effect from the alcohol used in cooking & now that I'm affected with this miserable disease, I can recognize how the slightest bit may not cause me to be drunk, but it certainly could cause a trigger for relapse. I suppose it's being wise & being careful as with anything that will safe-guard us. Thanks for the insight!

                1. With heat alcohol quickly burns off or dis-associates--leaving you with flavors but no booze

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: John Manzo

                      You're right and I was mis-informed. I posted again on Sept 06 below: heat, time, and surface area influence the amounts of alcohol remaining. Estimates of percentages remaining, however, vary.

                  1. Contrary to popular opinion, cooking removes only a portion of the alcohol added to a dish,
                    a much smaller portion than previously thought.

                    Perhaps most interesting, 75% of the alcohol remains after flambe-ing. A whopping thirty-five percent (35%) of alcohol remains even after a dish has been simmered 30 minutes on the stove, according to a 2003 USDA study. Alcohol remains in a dish chemically, even when its taste in undetectable – a very important consideration for someone in sobriety or for those cooking for someone in sobriety.

                    USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, Release 5 (2003)
                    http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp...

                    Table from USDA Showing Percent of Alcohol Retained After Cooking
                    Preparation Method Percent of Alcohol Retained
                    alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat 85%
                    alcohol flamed 75%
                    no heat, stored overnight 70%
                    baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture 45%
                    baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:
                    15 minutes 40%
                    30 minutes 35%
                    1 hour 25%
                    1.5 hours 20%
                    2 hours 10%
                    2.5 hours 5%

                    From the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, April, 2002, by Eleese Cunningham:

                    "The extent of loss depends on the severity of the heat application, or any other factor favoring evaporation. Cooking time 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 greatly affected by the size of the cooking vessel used. The smaller the cooking utensil the greater the amount alcohol retained. This was likely due to the smaller surface area for evaporation."

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Thanks, maria lorraine, for providing this information. It's going to be very helpful to me. I never quite believed chefs or others who said alcohol burns off so quickly.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Funny, the most common e-published response seems to be:

                        "Alcohol not only evaporates without heat, but the majority also burns off during the cooking process. How much remains in the dish depends on the cooking method and amount of cooking time. Those bourbon-soaked fruitcakes would have to turn into bricks before the alcohol evaporates. A bottle of Guinness in a long-simmered stew is not going to leave a significantly measurable alcohol residue, but will add a rich, robust flavor. A quick flambe may not burn off all the alcohol, whereas a wine reduction sauce will leave little if any alcohol content. Heat and time are the keys. Obviously, uncooked foods with alcohol will retain the most alcohol."

                        The statement doesn't really coincide with the USDA table.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Hi Sam,

                          "...but the majority also burns off during the cooking process.".

                          Peggy Trowbridge's first line above from the About.com Home Cooking article that you cite above isn't really accurate. So much depends on the cooking process. A dish that is braised for 2 hours will have 5% alcohol remaining -- in that case, most of the alcohol HAS burnt off. Bananas foster? 75% of the alcohol in the rum remains after the dish is flambe-ed.

                          Interestingly, in the very next sentence after the paragraph above, she discusses the USDA table.
                          http://homecooking.about.com/od/alcoh...

                          Best to you, Maria

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            As long as you interpret majority to mean more than 50%, the statement about the majority of alcohol burning off in the cooking process seems in line with the USDA table where at least 55% has burned off in the truly cooked versions. There is a big gap between majority and almost all. Most seems pretty fuzzy in this context. In any case, almost all dishes cooked using alcohol, even in small quantities, still have more than trace amounts of alcohol left.

                        2. re: maria lorraine

                          Congrats Maria for doing your homework! I am so tired arguing with people that say that the alcohol burns off I've given up. Your source above is 100% correct. Due to health issues and meds I cannot have any alcohol. According to my gastro specialist and dietitian this includes extracts, and cooking with alcohol. I found a local grocery store that carries de-alcoholized wine and champagne that work quite well and you can buy de-alcoholized at most grocery stores as well . For sherry/port I add sugar. Still haven't found a really good substitute for bourbon or cognac though. Have tried most substitutes to avail. Here in Ontario we have the strictest drinking and driving laws in Canada. Our alcohol outlet (LCBO) are run by the province you would think they would have alternatives.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            What about the amount and proof of the substance?

                            1. re: stallerdavid

                              I agree that the proof of the ethyl alcohol and amount of ethyl alcohol make a huge difference in the amount of residual ethyl alcohol (EA) remaining after cooking.

                              While the USDA charts show residual EA after flambe-ing (meaning, a spirit with a high proof was used) and the amount remaining after a long simmer or braise (assuming wine here), there is no chart I've found that shows the amount of residual EA remaining after various cooking times with separate columns for EA proof and volume.

                              Since you're curious, would you be willing to do the digging and find the data? I suspect a study that includes alcohol proof and volume is out there somewhere; a query to the USDA might direct you to it. Please try to unearth it, and post the link here, or the findings of the study. Thanks.

                            2. re: maria lorraine

                              I know this is an old thread, but I'm enjoying this topic and the science in it. So I tend to use 1 8 0z. cup of red wine in my tomato sauce. I generally make around 1.5 gallons at a time (192 oz), so dividing into serving sizes (1 cup), there would be 1/3 oz. of wine in each serving. BUT it also simmers for more than 2.5 hours, therefore retaining less than 5% of it's alcohol content. So someone eating my sauce would be getting less than 5% of 1/3 oz., if my math is correct (it probably isn't).

                              I would certainly never judge anyone's decision to avoid alcohol completely - that's your call and good for you if you do it. But I can't imagine this trace amount affecting medication. This would be a fraction of a drop - and red wine isn't 100 proof. (I'm not tryin to be argumentative - just interested in the science-y part.) Would anyone know the alcohol content of vanilla extract, or yeast fermentation to be able to compare? Would my sauce be more or less alcoholic than homemade vanilla ice cream? This is so interesting!

                              I do always tell people if I've used alcohol in my food, as I have a lot of addiction running around in my family, as well as some friends who choose not to drink for religious reasons.

                              1. re: NonnieMuss

                                I did the math for you, and the amount of alcohol per ounce of sauce comes to about 3/10000 of an ounce. That will have no effect on medication, but I still wouldn't serve the sauce to someone in sobriety.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  No of course - like I said I always tell people if alcohol is in the recipe. Although the actual alcohol content may be negligible, it may still retain flavors/aromas they may not want to deal with. Sneaking a wee bit of wine into a recovering alcoholic does not interest me. Thanks for the math!

                              2. Another thing to consider is the overall amount of alcohol in your particular serving of food. Ten creme brule's might be flavored with a half ounce to an ounce of grand marnier (or whatever the cook is using). So,a question might be as to whether that little amount is not going to matter with your medications. Again with the meatballs, how much is actually ending up on your particular plate?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chrisinroch

                                  Yes, you must divide the total amount of remaining alcohol by the number of servings in the dish.

                                2. What hasn't been mentioned yet is that some recovering alcoholics take anabuse, which causes them to get violently sick if they consume any alcohol. Different people react in varying degrees to the combination (a very small percentage being unaffected) but most people do not want to find out where they fall on the spectrum. That is why people should be informed as to the presence of alcohol in the recipe. This can be very dangerous for someone who is sensitive to anabuse. Some people can't even use aftershave because the transdermal contact alone is enough to cause a violent reaction.

                                  1. Nielsen Massey makes a vanilla paste (actually more of a goop) which contains no alcohol. It's good for cold stuff like whipped cream, or recipes where the alcohol might not burn off, or (I would think) for people who for whatever reason shouldn't have any. It's not hard to find online, either: for example, http://www.williams-sonoma.com/produc...

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: misterbrucie

                                      It's just been reported on another board that TJ's offers the same product at a fraction of the price.

                                      1. re: coney with everything

                                        Another flavorful option: use a vanilla bean.

                                    2. It's not just booze that puts ethanol in your food. Most baked goods contain vanilla, most vanilla takes the form of an extract, and most extracts are based on grain spirits. Miniscule quantities, sure, but something to keep in mind while you're controlling the quantity of alcohol you're taking in.

                                      BTW, the "flamed alcohol" retention of 75% has got to be a quick off-heat flame, not a vigorous flambe. Bananas Foster (at least my recipe) continue cooking in a wide, uncovered pan for a minute or so after the liquor has been added and ignited. That's going to drive out more than 25% of the ethanol.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        I'm not sure Bananas Foster was the best example...sorry.

                                      2. Use verjus instead. I do this when I cook for a family member in recovery, because alcohol indeed does not completely burn off, as it were. It's a bit dear and hard to find, but it's worth it.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          This sounds greatl just found some online and placed an order. Once I get it I can check the ratio of verjus with regular juice for my braised beef recipe (sounds like it could be a touch tart for 100%

                                          I have been been sober for over 10 years and have used de-alcoholized Ariel without being triggered - but never felt comfortable serving to my friends in recovery - and honestly would prefer a truly non-alcoholic version. Thanks for the tip

                                        2. I had found the USDA study to be an eye-opener, but see that it's been covered here. ;-)

                                          1. The reason that you can’t “cook off” the alcohol in a dish is because it binds with water and forms an azeotrope which is a mixture of two or more compounds in such a ratio that its composition cannot be changed by simple distillation. When an azeotrope is boiled, the resulting vapor has the same ratio of constituents as the original mixture of liquids. So unless you boil away all of the liquid, you will always have some alcohol left in the mixture.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: TomDel

                                              This is extremely informative - thanks for providing a straightforward and scientific answer to this other-wise puzzling question!

                                              1. re: TomDel

                                                I think this is why a recent seriouseats Food Lab experiment suggested that you should reduce the wine as much as possible before adding additional liquid, however you still have the issue of the water in the wine but at least this two step method reduces the azeotrope formation.

                                              2. Thanks to whoever resurrected this post. I once tried making vodka sauce and added exactly the amount of vodka that it called for, but it tasted so strongly of alcohol that I haven't had the nerve to try it again. That was over a year ago. However, I was thinking about giving it another try soon,and this time, I'll know to cook the alcohol longer.

                                                Also, for future reference, (I also mistakenly thought that a small amount would be ok and evaporate away) if I'm cooking something for someone who can't drink alcohol, (pregnant, or recovering alcoholic as some of you mentioned), I always ask, before serving, but it sounds like I should maybe not add it if it never fully cooks down. It's usually stuff like adding a 1/2 cup to risotto or something like that.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: anzu

                                                  My kids (11 and 14) can't stand the taste of alcohol in anything - so no red wine added to stews or sauces, no liqueurs on desserts, etc. However, my wife makes a butter cake that she douses with a brandy/butter sauce (which she cooks for about 30 minutes at low heat). And when we visit Greek spots, and have saganaki flamed in brandy, they scarf it all down. Go figure.

                                                  1. re: KevinB

                                                    "My kids (11 and 14) can't stand the taste of alcohol in anything "

                                                    That's probably a blessing you'll soon appreciate.

                                                    1. re: miss_bennet

                                                      My daughter couldn't stand alcohol either until discovering "mudslides"...enough said and very comically to watch. Sometimes we have to learn from our own mistakes!

                                                2. Hi everyone, I am the mother of a recovering addict and I LOVE to cook for my family. I came across a helpful website when I was searching for a replacement for the red wine in a recipe I was about to make for everyone. It's a table for what to use instead of alcohol.
                                                  Here's the useful link:

                                                  www.barricksinsurance.com/alcoholfree...

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: kaali

                                                    This is great information, kaali. Thank you for sharing it.

                                                    1. re: kaali

                                                      I wonder at some of those substitutions (e.g. ginger ale for champagne). For some alternatives, also look at the non-alcoholic suggestions at Cook's Thesaurus: http://www.foodsubs.com/Alcohol.html (e.g. for champagne: sparkling grape juice (non-alcoholic) OR equal parts verjus and soda, sweetened with simple syrup -- which I think I'd prefer as substitutes rather than ginger ale).

                                                    2. Beau 711, the information you have is correct. It does take that long for the alcohol content to burn off entirely. The preps. that contain the highest concentration of grain are the ones prepared a la minute, flamed for seconds w/ a blast of alcohol and flame and then doused and served.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. I agree about the ginger ale..haven't tried it, but sounds iffy. I did, however, use the red wine substitute twice in the past 2 days, and it works really well. My son was shocked when I told him what went into the recipe (instead of red wine) for chateaubriand I cooked last night - he devoured it! And today i made a lentil and spinach dish that called for red wine and it was really yummy.

                                                        1. I am a recovering alcoholic with 21+ years of sobriety. I used to love cooking with wine and baking with rum etc.

                                                          I can't be in the same room where mushrooms are being sauteed and a splash of wine is added without having a (strong) averse reaction. I know some people who are in recovery who CAN tolerate wine sauces, etc. but I am not one of them.

                                                          No coq au vin or marsala, etc. no rum balls or cake. I have just learned it is best to live w/out them. I don't think I am in any danger of relapsing if I had a bite of something w/alcohol, but I'd really rather not. Alcoholism is such a dangerous disease, if that rum ball tastes good, I'll maybe venture on to convincing myself that penne a la vodka wouldn't hurt, and who knows where I'll stop. I have the disease of addiciton.

                                                          Its a slippery slope I don't want to put myself on, its part of how I have maintained 21 years.

                                                          I have don'e a lot of reading on this subject but I want to say that I really enjoyed reading this thread. Thanks everyone.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: laliz

                                                            Keep strong - it sounds like you have a very good sense of yourself. 21 years in long time, I admire you. There are plenty of great dishes and treats that are alcohol-free, I agree that it's not worth it to eat stuff with booze in it.

                                                          2. What about the alcohol produced by yeast in our foods?
                                                            (from an old folk song)

                                                            We never eat cookies because they have yeast,
                                                            And one little crumb makes a man like a beast.
                                                            Now can you imagine a greater disgrace
                                                            Than a man in the gutter with crumbs on his face?

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: NVJims

                                                              Now I know why I've never really liked cookies! Great little song : )

                                                              1. re: NVJims

                                                                Which cookies use yeast? Every cookie I know uses baking soda or baking powder for leavening.

                                                                <<alcohol produced by yeast in our foods>>

                                                                Which foods with ethanol do you mean ? Other than wine, of course.