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 if 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.