Cooking with Alcohol

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Cooks use wines, beers, and distilled spirits as ingredients in a broad range of dishes, from savory soups and sauces and stews to sweet creams and cakes, soufflés and sorbets. They contribute distinctive flavors, often including acidity, sweetness, and savoriness (from glutamic and succinic acids), and the aromatic dimension provided by alcohol and other volatile substances. Some qualities can be a challenge for the cook to work with, including the astringency of red wines and the bitterness of most beers. The alcohol itself also provides a third kind of liquid—in addition to water and oil—into which flavor and color molecules can be extracted and dissolved, as well as reactive molecules that can combine with other substances in the food to generate new aromas and greater depth of flavor. While large amounts of alcohol tend to trap other volatile molecules in the food, small traces boost their volatility and so intensify aroma.