Alcohol, in the culinary context, refers to a pungent, bitter, volatile, colorless, ingredient (ethanol) present in certain beverages (specifically known as alcoholic beverages or hard drinks) which are known to usually have an intoxicating effect on the human mind on consumption. Other than ethanol which is also known as drinking alcohol, no other variety of alcohol is fit for human consumption. Alcoholic beverages are made by fermentation of certain organic substances like cereal grains and certain fruits like grapes. Yeast is most commonly used as a fermenting agent. Alcoholic drinks are classified into three major categories, namely, beers, wines and spirits. Beer, Rum, Vodka, Tequila, Margarita, Jager, Wine, Absinth are some of the most popular drinks containing alcohol.
History of Drinking Alcohol
The usage of alcohol for human consumption has been traced to China in the Neolithic age. Beer jugs have been discovered in the stone-age at about 10,000 BC. Since then the different cultures of the world produced their own specific types of alcoholic drinks and beverages. Alcoholic drinks were made from grains rather than from bread which has a natural ingredient called yeast to ferment it to yield alcohol. The Celtic, Babylonian, Greek, Egyptian and Norse communities started fermenting organic substances for the production of alcohol. The Greeks were the first to invent the straw for drinking beer. The Babylonians were the first to formulate laws to regulate the vice of drinking. The Chinese were the first to produce distilled sprits which were brought to Europe only in the 11th century. The Greek and Romans used flavoring agents like mint and balsam for flavoring their drinks. In 6000-4000 B.C. grapes for making wine were cultivated in the mountainous regions of the Caspian Sea.
Culinary Uses of Alcohol
Alcohol is an essential element of different types of beverages. Some of the most popular classes of alcoholic beverages are brandies (made from fruit juices), whiskey (made from cereal grains), Rum (made from molasses/ sugar cane), wines (made mainly from grapes), and beer (made from cereals). Drinking alcohol of the present age is mostly distilled alcohol. Beers are low in alcohol content. They are the third most popular category of drinks in the whole world after non-alcoholic beverages like tea and coffee. Wines are also low in alcohol content. Spirits are distilled alcohols which are used to enrich wines like port and sherry.
Though alcohol is drunk in almost all countries of the world it is prohibited in many countries even today.
Popular Alcoholic Recipes
Alcohol has been used for making alcoholic recipes in different ways. Boeuf bourguignon (Beef Burgundy), coq au vin (chicken braised in wine) and hunter-styled chicken are only a few of the vast range of dishes that are cooked using an alcoholic beverage. Beer, wine vodka and brandy are the commonly used alcohols for culinary purposes. Different types of cooking alcohol are used for marinating, braising, grilling, barbecuing, and broiling. Alcohol is also used to make flambes. Though the alcoholic recipes may be made using alcohol meant for drinking purposes, it is recommended to prepare the dishes with alcohol specially made for the purpose. Cooking wine (which may be a rice wine or grape wine), also known as cooking sherry, is wine prepared solely for the purpose of cooking. Liquors are flavored alcoholic beverages which are used in cooking. These fruit, nut, flower, spices or cream flavored drinks improve the taste and aroma of any dish they are used with. They are usually poured over desserts, and also used while cooking alcoholic recipes to improve flavors. Vermouth (a wine fortified with aromatic herbs and spices like cardamom, chamomile, marjoram and chamomile) is another alcoholic beverage used in cooking. Eau de white is a fruit flavored brandy that is used in giving foods a delicious fruity flavor. Brandy is specifically used in flambé. Cooking wine is used for marinating certain types of meat to tenderize them.
Nutritive Value of Alcohol and Alcoholic Drinks
Alcohol is high in calories, and the drinks which include carbohydrates will be higher in calories. Beer is considered good for health when taken in optimum amount. In fact, it has, been known to be used in place of bread or cereal as it could be stored without perishing for much longer periods of tine than the foods mentioned. However alcohol is not known to contain any elements of nutritional worth. Though the ingredient contributes to increase calories they are not of any nutritional worth. Wine is found to contain a phytochemical called resvesterol which are said to decrease the risk of coronary and other diseases.
On the negative side, alcohol when consumed excessively has a devastating effect on the human body and mind. It affects the liver and destroys the natural reserves of Vitamin C and B-Complex of the body.
Alcohol Consumption Criteria
Though alcohol consumption is an everyday affair for a number of people there are certain criteria, as mentioned below, which must be ideally satisfied before doing that:
- Special Occasions ands Festivals- Wines like Champagne are one of the world’s most widely used celebratory wines consumed specifically in parties. Beer, martini and margarita are also consumed during various occasions.
- Age Criterion- In many countries the consumption of alcoholic drinks is not allowed for children due their intoxicative and addictive effects on humans.
Disease Criterion- Alcohol is recently found to have a beneficial affect on human health in the case of coronary heart diseases and hypertension, but it is bad for the liver, nervous system, lungs, patients suffering from diabetes mellitus, and a host of other conditions. It is always advisable for people with any special medical conditions to first consult their physicians before trying out drinks or recipes containing alcohol.
Buying and Storing Alcohol
- Alcohol as a beverage can be bought in shops that sell the beverages. However while buying them the legal norms of the country for buying the alcoholic drink must be strictly followed. Alcoholic beverages are best stored at optimum temperatures.
- Alcoholic beverages are best stored in cool and dark places at moderate temperatures. If the bottles have cork stoppers it is always better to rest them horizontally so that the cork remains moist. But in the case of spirit this rule of thumb may not be followed. Sparkling wines should always be stored below 15 degrees centigrade.
- It’s a misconception that the quality of alcoholic drinks improves with age. Wine is best consumed within a year and a half of its purchase. Fortified wines may not perish for years but if kept in the open they will loose their flavor. Liqueurs with high content of alcohol and sugar normally remain for a long time. Beer does not age well in a bottle. It should be stored in a cool place as high temperature will make it lose its taste.
Using alcohol implies using it safely for drinking purposes. As alcohol is known to cause intoxication which dulls the senses and alertness of a person when consumed in large quantities, it is best avoided or taken in small quantities occasionally. It should not be consumed before driving. Alcohol is best drunk in measured units. For example, ½ a pint of beer may be considered to be 1.5 units. Drinking more than 3-4 units in a day may be harmful to the body. Drinking plenty of water, eating well before drinking, and not mixing drinks are other tips for safe consumption of alcohol.
Non- food Use of Drinking Alcohol
Drinking alcohol has recently found usage as a fuel.
Alcohol Consumption Related Trivia
A third of divorce petitions in the United Kingdom seem to be based on Alcohol consumption by either or both partners.
10,000 people annually seek assistance for problems related to alcohol consumption every year during Christmas.