Perryman Nutrition Column: Be Savvy When Cooking with Alcohol

Note to Reporters: The following column is written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.

I saw an embroidered apron proclaiming: “Cooking with wine is fun. Sometimes I even add it to the food.” Many people enjoy cooking with wine, beer or hard liquor because the alcohol adds distinctive flavor. But eating foods with alcohol may be a complicated dilemma for some dinner guests.

Some people are reluctant to eat food cooked with alcohol for religious or health reasons. Pregnant women or people taking certain medications also may want to be cautious about consumption of alcohol in any form, and some people may have concerns about the amount of alcohol in food if they are also drinking alcohol.

However, at least some alcohol does burn off with cooking over heat, but time and surface areas are also key factors in determining the remaining alcohol content. The longer food is cooked, the less alcohol remains. If a food is baked or simmered for 15 minutes, 40 percent of the alcohol will remain. Twenty five percent of the alcohol remains after one hour of cooking. As more time passes less alcohol is present until only 5 per cent remains after two-and-a-half hours of cooking.

• Flaming alcohol on food — or lighting a dish on fire — burns off less alcohol than an extended cooking time. If you want to minimize alcohol content choose a recipe such as Coq au Vin, which is chicken braised in red wine sauce, rather than a flamed dish. Flamed dishes may contain as much as 75 percent of the original alcohol after the flames go out.
• Dishes that are not cooked will have higher alcohol content. When alcohol is added to something cold, like whipped cream, or a holiday no-bake rum ball recipe, the alcohol content remains unchanged.
• The smaller the pan used for cooking, the more alcohol will remain in the food. That’s because the smaller surface area allows less evaporation of the alcohol.
• About 85 percent of alcohol remains if alcohol is added to a boiling liquid and then removed from the heat source.

When trying to calculate alcohol content left in a dish after it is prepared, keep in mind the amount of alcohol you added. A plum pudding that is sprinkled with rum extract before it is flamed will contain very little alcohol compared to a dish of fruit doused with Grand Marnier.

When choosing wine for cooking, steer away from cooking wine which tends to be high in sodium. Instead select a wine you could enjoy drinking. Julia Child once said, “If you do not have a good wine to use, it is far better to omit it, for a poor one can spoil a dish and utterly debase a noble one.”

If you have concerns about added alcohol when eating out, ask the wait staff about entrees you’re considering. The menu may not indicate if a meat has been marinated in alcohol as part of the preparation. It may also be added to a risotto, pasta sauce or other recipes without indication on the menu.

If you choose to eliminate alcohol in recipes there are some substitutes that can create a similar final product with some trial and error to get it just right. Use these substitutions in the same quantity as you would liquor, with the exception of extracts.
• Use broth or juice such as tomato or apple in a savory dish such as a stew. You may wish to also add a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar in addition to mimic wine’s acidity.
• In desserts substitute a fruit juice. Concentrated orange juice and grated orange zest can fill in for orange liqueur.
• Look for non-alcoholic beer and wine which contain very little alcohol but contributes a similar flavor.
• Use a flavored extract. Brandy extract will impart the flavor of brandy without the alcohol. These alcohol stand-ins are made with a small amount of alcohol but only a small amount is typically used so the finished product is virtually non-alcoholic.

Whether your holiday recipes include alcohol in any form or not, enjoy cooking those special dishes reserved for this time of year. Happy Holidays!