We’ve heard this mentioned many times before – ‘alcohol burns off in heat’. But just how much retention does it have on, let’s say, a stir-fry meal? Is a certain method of cooking more effective than others, to burn off ethanol? How do we know if the alcohol is completely gone on the food we serve to our friends who don’t drink? Does it break our sober streak if we eat a meal cooked with alcohol? What about food that naturally contains alcohol?
These are legitimate questions to ponder when we assess our relationship with alcohol. There is no one solution that fits all when it comes to what you can or cannot drink. Everyone has a unique relationship with alcohol. One person might find drinking low-alcohol beer is too triggering; others might be fine with it. Drinking Kombucha might be a good replacement drink to some, but not to others. Whatever our decisions are, a good understanding in these areas would help to determine our own boundaries.
Before we dig into these, let’s have a closer look into ABV and the alcohol labelling in Australia. The measure used for alcohol is ABV (Alcohol by Volume), in percentages. According to Standard 2.7.1 of Food Standard Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), any beverages that contain more than 0.5% ABV sold in Australia and New Zealand must include alcohol labelling. That means that 0.5% ABV is considered an alcoholic beverage. Each country has its own standard, so a product that claims to be a non-alcoholic beverage in the UK might not pass as such in Australia. It could, however, be considered as a low-alcohol drink. If you would like to read more about our thoughts on zero alcohol beers, we wrote an article about it here.
Let’s keep this in mind for now, as it might come in handy when it comes to our own informed decisions.
Everyday foods that contain alcohol
Next, there are some foods that contain alcohol. Some are pretty obvious, such as fruit cakes, tiramisu, chocolate liqueur or Kombucha. Others, not so obvious, like ripe bananas (the ones with black spots), apple juice, some cooking wine vinegars or even a milk bun. Although the amount of alcohol varies for each of them, there are traces of alcohol. Clearly eating a burger and having a glass of Kombucha won’t make us intoxicated, but perhaps the smell of rum on Christmas pudding reminded us too much of our old friend, alcohol. That’s where knowing and understanding our triggers would help establish boundaries that we are comfortable with.
Alcohol boiling point
Now, let’s have a look at alcohol retention during cooking. The ethanol boiling point is at 78.37° Celsius. There are a few opinions around the amount of alcohol left during cooking. For instance, according to this standard from the USDA (scroll through page 14), the amount of alcohol cooked out at the boiling point for 15 mins with a stirring method, is 75%. The remaining amount will then continue to decrease to 5% if stirred for another 2.5 hours. Other opinions state that many factors could contribute to alcohol retention. Such as the diameter of the pan, ingredients added and cooking technique – whether it is stirred, simmered, covered or uncovered, could affect the retention of the alcohol. In short, there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether or not all the alcohol burns off during cooking.
So, what to do?
It is easier to make decisions that you feel comfortable with when cooking at home, such as replacing the alcoholic ingredients with low- to zero alcohol drinks. Depending on your recipe, you can replace it with water, tomato juice (if the food needs a certain acidity from red wine), pineapple juice, or just leave out that ingredient completely. If you are invited to a dinner party, communicating early about this would help avoid having to make a decision on the spot.
Let’s restate that each of our journeys is unique. It is important to note what triggers you and what you are ok with. Seek advice from a GP to help determine what would be helpful for you and your specific health needs.
Whether you are ok drinking a low-alcohol beverage, or the smell of alcohol evaporating in the air is too triggering for you, knowing this would help making a decision on what’s best for your sobriety or moderation journey. And it is the mutual respect for this diversity of conviction about drinking that makes up our non-judgmental community.
Going back to the question on consuming food containing alcohol and our sober streak. At the end of the day, perhaps it’s not cooking with alcohol that is the issue. But rather the trip to a bottle shop, keeping alcohol at home and the temptation of finishing the rest of the ‘left-over’ alcohol that are the things we need to ponder.