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Sep 4, 2007 03:55 PM

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:

        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 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)

          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.

              3 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

                  1. re: Hooda_Guest

                    When cooking for myself and friends who are very cautious about alcohol, I use imitation vanilla flavoring, which is alcohol-free, or vanilla bean (much better).

                    On the other hand, if you have no worries, you can try making your own vanilla by steeping vanilla beans (you can already have scraped out the seeds for a previous use) in Absolut vodka.