If you’re worried about getting boozy in front of your fiancée’s parents over the holidays, it’s not just the eggnog you should be watching.
As it turns out, many popular foods prepared with wine or liquor never have the alcohol completely cooked out. New Scientist deputy editor Graham Lawton tried it out for himself by eating several dishes sautéed, flambéed, or baked with booze. After each plate he consumed (an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert), Lawton measured his blood alcohol content.
Everyone processes alcohol differently, but the food clearly had an impact on Lawton.
By the end of the meal, he is visibly buzzed. More importantly, his blood alcohol level has skyrocketed — 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 what we know about cooking with alcohol.)
Throughout the meal, Lawton’s BAC level alternates a bit. After an appetizer of rum-flambéed sausage, it spikes. The meter simply reads “HI.” Assuming that Lawton had an empty stomach at this time, his gut was able to absorb the maximum amount of alcohol from whatever he ate or drank, which would explain the rapid rise in BAC.
Then, after time has passed and Lawton’s body begins absorbing the alcohol he’s eating at a slower rate, his BAC drops a bit to a low of 1.3 (.13 in US measurements) — still far too high to legally drive.
After dessert, however, his BAC shoots back up to “HI.” While Lawton’s body is absorbing less alcohol since he now has food in his system, he’s ingested more alcohol than his body can process in the time he’s been eating.
The US Department of Agriculture made this handy chart to compare how much alcohol content is retained in certain foods using various cooking times and methods.
When alcohol is added to a boiling liquid and removed from heat, a process frequently used in making reductions for meat dishes or desserts, close to 85% of the alcohol you put in your dish stays intact.
Of all the cooking methods you could use, baking or simmering removes the most alcohol overall. But 30 minutes of baking (a reasonable amount of time for brownies, bread, or a cake) would still leave you with a little over a third of any alcohol you added to the mixture. Cookies, by comparison, only spend about 15 minutes in the oven, so those will end up containing about 40% of any alcohol you’ve put in.
The only method that almost entirely removes the alcohol (and it still doesn’t get it out entirely) is cooking or simmering for 2 and 1/2 hours or more. Fortunately, you can substitute other liquids for most of the alcohol recipes call for, like using ginger ale instead of white wine and tomato juice instead of red wine.
Watch Lawton’s full video below.
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