Distillation

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Distillation separating a liquid from a mixture by boiling it off and condensing the vapour. The best-known use of the technique is to make alcoholic drinks such as brandy; but there are other, food-related, uses; flavourings such as rosewater (see roses) and orange flower water are prepared by a type of distillation.

Distillation can also be used to produce drinking water from sea water, a process described by Aristotle in the 4th century bc. At that time the Egyptians were already distilling turpentine from pine resin, and probably also making small amounts of alcohol for medicinal use. It was only with the rise of Arab science that the distillation of alcohol was carried out on an appreciable scale. Islam prohibits the consumption of alcoholic drinks, but certainly by the time the technique reached European countries in the 14th and 15th centuries it was being used for that purpose.