Does Alcohol Burn off Food during Cooking?

With many home cooked dishes requiring alcohol during preparation, it’s easy to wonder whether all the alcohol will evaporate completely from a meal or if alcohol remains when the dish arrives at the table. Although conflicting opinions exist on just how much alcohol may remain after a recipe comes off the stovetop, studies have been conducted by the US Department of Agriculture that suggest a portion of alcohol will always remain after cooking.

The Taste Is Gone but the Alcohol Remains

Cooking with alcohol often serves to create a particular or distinct flavor for a recipe, and the many varieties of alcohol that exist create a myriad number of different taste combinations. Finished recipes often do not require the taste of alcohol to remain in the final product. Recipes such as sauces often call for the complete evaporation of alcohol through boiling or simmering for a minute after the alcohol is added. This removes the taste of alcohol completely from the sauce.

The important thing to remember though is that even though the taste of alcohol may disappear from a dish, a portion of the alcohol will indeed remain in most completed meals. The strength or density of the alcohol may influence how long it might take for the taste to disappear, but it usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes for the taste to vanish.

How You Prepare Makes a Difference

Different types of preparations tend to influence just how much alcohol will remain in your finished meal.  While simmering a dish for 15 to 20 minutes will allow over half of the alcohol to evaporate, boiling a dish with alcohol for a short few minutes will allow less than a quarter of the alcohol to burn away. Making a dish using a flambe technique, where alcohol is poured on top of food and then set on fire, will allow at least 75 percent of the alcohol to remain.

In order to ensure 100 percent of the alcohol you add to a dish such as a sauce disappears, you’d need to cook for over two hours to completely eradicate all traces of the alcohol. This isn’t really that practical and if it is important that a dish has zero alcohol when it’s served, substitutions for alcohol can be made.

Substitutes for Alcohol

Most recipes that call for alcohol do have a non-alcoholic substitute that can help to create a completely alcohol-free dish, but substitutions may change the final taste of the dish. It’s a matter of personal preference whether substituting a non-alcoholic ingredient is warranted, but eliminating alcohol from a dish can sometimes also create a less expensive meal.

For example, if a recipe requires rum, molasses and pineapple juice can be substituted. If sherry is required, a replacement of pineapple or orange juice can be utilized. Recipes that need tequila can use cactus juice (or nectar) and for foods that require amaretto, almond extract can be substituted. Recipes will frequently provide non-alcoholic suggested substitutions within the ingredient list.


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