If you’ve ever been told that cooking “burns off” any alcohol in the food you’re eating, be forewarned: That’s entirely untrue.
Sure, you’re not likely to get wasted nibbling on a small slice of tiramisu, but it’s time to toss out that old story that you can eat foods with alcohol and ignore any of their effects on your blood alcohol levels.
As it turns out, many popular foods cooked with wine or liquor still contain alcohol.
But how much, you ask?
New Scientist deputy editor Graham Lawton decided to experiment on himself to find out. In a video, he eats several dishes, all of which have been sautéed, flambéed, or baked with booze. After each plate, he uses a hand-held breathalyzer to measure his blood alcohol content.
Check out his results:
Course no. 1: Chorizo flambéed with rum
Before he starts eating, Lawton breathalyzes himself. He’s already at a 0.2 (0.02 in US measurements) thanks to having sampled some of the dessert he’d made earlier — a trifle with a touch of sherry.
Then, he dips into the appetizer he made, a rum-flambeed chorizo. It looks pretty tasty:
When he finishes the sausage, he tests his blood alcohol levels again by blowing into the breathalyzer. Here’s his result:
Clearly, his blood alcohol level has gone up. Since it’s too high for his BAC meter to calculate accurately, the device simply reads “HI.” (We’re not sure what kind of meter he was using or how accurate it was, but his readings jibe with a US Department of Agriculture report on alcohol retention levels using various cooking methods.)
“Believe it or not,” says Lawton, “I’m already over the drink-drive limit, simply by eating that flambéed chorizo.”
While that might seem extreme, we’re assuming that Lawton also has an empty stomach when he starts the experiment, meaning that his gut was able to absorb the maximum amount of alcohol from whatever he consumed. That would explain why his BAC went up so fast. Plus, adding alcohol to a boiling liquid and removing it from heat, a process frequently used in making reductions for meat dishes, leaves close to 85% of the alcohol added to the dish intact, according to the USDA report.
Course no. 2: Fish stew cooked with white wine
Lawton explains that his next course, a Portuguese fish stew, used 180 milliliters of white wine. The dish was then covered and cooked for 30 minutes.
“You might say surely then that there’s none of the alcohol left,” says Lawton. We’ll see.
Again, he finishes the meal and takes a pause to test his blood alcohol levels.
To his surprise, his BAC has actually decreased, measuring in at a 1.3 (0.13 in US measurements). That’s because now that he has food in his stomach, he’s has begun absorbing the alcohol at a slower rate. Still, this level is still far too high to legally drive.
Of all the cooking methods you could use, baking or simmering (as was likely done with this fish stew) removes the most alcohol overall, according to the USDA report. But 30 minutes of baking still leaves you with a little over a third of any alcohol you added to the mixture.
Course no. 3: Sherry trifle with a silybum topping
Lawton says the last course is a traditional dessert made with sherry, but with an added twist: A whipped topping made with cream and silybum (milk thistle) liquor.
After a serving of the creamy dessert, he measures his blood alcohol levels again. Not surprisingly, they have shot back up to “HI.”
At this point, Lawton has food in his stomach, but not nearly enough to keep up with all the alcohol he’s eating. Despite the obvious effects that his three-course-meal has on Lawton, it’s important to remember that everyone processes alcohol differently. Everything from how much you weigh to how much you’ve eaten that day can affect how your body breaks down booze.
Looking for a cooking method that removes the most alcohol possible? Cooking or simmering a dish for 2 and 1/2 hours or more, the USDA report found, removes the majority (but still leaves a small amount). Keep in mind, too, that you can always substitute other liquids for alcohol if needed. Ginger ale works great instead of white wine, for example; tomato juice can be swapped for red wine.
Watch Lawton’s full video below.
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