Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

alcohol colloquially refers to potable liquids containing quantities of ethyl alcohol (C2H5OH), and is the sense used here. Technically, alcohol denotes a class of organic compounds distinguished by the presence of a hydroxyl group (an oxygen atom combined with a hydrogen atom, linked to a carbon atom). Minute quantities of some of these are responsible for complex flavours in items as diverse as fruit and Scotch whisky.

Apart from its use as a drink, to which many volumes have been devoted, alcohol has a role as an ingredient in cookery. Many examples of the use of locally popular alcoholic drinks in the foods of different areas exist, from beer in Belgium to saké in the Orient. Grape-based alcohols—wine, champagne, port, sherry, Marsala, brandy, and other spirits distilled from grapes—have a global importance. The wide distribution of viticulture, the extensive trade in wines, their distinctive flavours, and the influence of French kitchen practice have all contributed to this. However, dietary laws forbid Muslims to use alcohol in any form, including as an ingredient (see muslims and food).