The Qualities of Alcohol

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

In chemistry, the term alcohol is applied to a large family of substances with a similar molecular structure. Our everyday word alcohol refers to one particular member of this family, which chemists call ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. In this chapter I’ll use alcohol in its common sense, but I’ll also refer to “higher” alcohols, or molecules in the alcohol family with more atoms than ethanol has.

Ethanol, or common alcohol. The versatile ethanol molecule has one end that resembles the fatty-acid carbon chain of fats and oils, and one end that resembles water.