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Does alcohol burn off during cooking?

Alcohol can be found as an ingredient in many recipes. It can be added as an ingredient to add specific flavors or it can be part of an ingredient, such as extracts. Many cookbooks and cooks tell the consumer that the alcohol will have burned off, however the process is more complicated than this simple statement implies.

Alcohol does boil at a lower temperature than water – 86 degrees centigrade vs. 100 degrees C. for water, though one may have to boil a beer for 30 minutes to get it down to the NA or nonalcoholic category, which by law means it contains less than .5 percent alcohol.

Taste is what alcoholic beverages add to food when used as part of the ingredients. Alcoholic beverages are not added to the recipe for the intoxicating effect of the alcohol. Extracts on the other hand use alcohol for other reasons. An extract is a concentrated solution made from extracting (washing or pulling) constituents out of the structural matrix of the original compound.

The alcohol in extracts can vary form 20% to 90%, with the higher concentrations needed for the constituents that are the least water soluble. The alcohol in an extract can serve as a preservative and should preserve the aroma and taste of the original ingredient that it is made from. It also acts as a carrier across mucous membranes, thus facilitating absorption into the bloodstream.

Extracts contain a very high percentage of alcohol, but the total dose of alcohol is low, so that the amount of alcohol actually consumed is very low. If one mixed 30 drops of a common extract into 2 ounces of water, the resulting alcohol content would be 0.59% which is the equivalent of consuming 1/65th of a bottle of beer or 1/85th of a glass of wine.


Information provided by the The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)

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