Cooking with wine: does the alcohol evaporate? Do the calories disappear?

I like cooking with wine. Not just wine, actually. I cook with tequila, I cook with beer… I like the full-bodied flavor that only alcohol drinks seem able to impart. But I understand that a lot of people find cooking with alcoholic drinks taboo. For some, it’s because of health reasons. Some people are allergic to alcohol. For others, well, there are religions that prohibit intake of alcohol in any form.

This post then is for those who are curious about cooking with wine and other alcoholic beverages. It has three parts. The first about the evaporation of alcohol. The second is about whether the “bitterness” in the alcohol gives the cooked dish a bitter taste. The third is about how much of the calories in the alcoholic beverage remains after cooking.

Let’s start with the evaporation of alcohol. The alcohol evaporates — not burn off — during cooking but not all of it. If alcohol is your “enemy” for health or religious reasons (I won’t judge you, don’t worry), click here to view a table on the percentage of the alcohol that evaporates based on different cooking methods.

I must admit that I used to think that all the alcohol burned off during cooking. That’s because is allowed to boil off long enough, there is no trace of bitterness left. There is no smell that stings the nose either. What remains is the rich concentrated fruity flavor of the wine. So, if you think that adding alcohol to a dish makes it bitter, think again. Unless you’re talking fruit cake or rum cake or something similar, bitterness doesn’t figure in the equation. If you do it right. But, again, it doesn’t mean that there is no alcohol left in the food.

Now, about the calories. Alcoholic drinks are notorious for their high calorie content. If a percentage of the alcohol evaporates during cooking, does a proportional amount of the calories magically disappear too? Unfortunately not. Much of the calories in alcoholic beverages are in the sugar, not in the alcohol itself. And the sugar does not burn off. That’s why adding sweet wine will result in a sweetish cooked dish while adding dry wine will not have the same result.

If all that has gotten you curious, I advise that you don’t simply take everything I wrote here to be gospel truth. Do your own reading, find as many sources of information as you can, decide which makes sense and which does not. Science is a huge part of cooking and, just like any cook who wants to get better at cooking, I’m on a road to discovery too.

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The Author

Hello, my name is Connie Veneracion. I cook, I shoot, I write. But I don't do the laundry. I don't like housekeeping very much either... (more about me)

11 Responses

  1. Larry Narachi says:

    Nice – I will add something I read about using wine in a marinade: -Always cook off the alcohol to prevent it from cooking the exterior of the meat, and preventing the meat from fully absorbing the other flavors in your marinade.

  2. Trosp says:

    In a culinary show (Q Channel), the host was explaining the drunken prawn (shrimp) recipe. According to her, the alcoholic drink (gin) where the prawns were marinated lost its potency when boiled during cooking. But according to some culinary buffs, the gin is used not to marinate the prawn but to make them dizzy and disoriented so that they will be firm and tender when cooked alive! Cooking them alive without intoxication will induce heavy tension on them and their flesh will be a little bit tough.

  3. Trosp says:

    The explanation is they would not be stressed or tensed when being cooked if they are drunk. Seems to me plausible.

  4. Gay says:

    Does the sugar in wine evaporate with the alcohol? I have not been able to find out. I want to use wine for crock pot cooking.

  5. Gay says:

    Thank you

  6. DeanR says:

    Your point three is glossed over way too simplistically. The vast majority of calories in alcoholic drinks are actually from the alcohol itself. In a sauce approximately 85% of the alcohol will burn off, reducing the calories from the alcohol by 85%. The sugar has a contribution but it’s no where near as much as the alcohol. There will still be some calories but no where near as many.

  7. RJ says:

    Hi Connie, do you use wine in Filipino braised dishes? Maybe something like kaldereta.