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Why is alcohol used to prepare extracts, such as mint extract?

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The solubility of some flavor components in alcohol is the root reason. This is directly related to why alcohol is useful in cooking in general, such as vodka or wine in tomato sauces. – renegade Dec 9 '13 at 17:38

Simple. The compounds that give mint its minty flavor are alcohol soluble, so with alcohol present you can "extract" them.

There are other things use can use, propylene glycol is one. Basically you need a solvent that can also serve as a carrier for the flavor you want. Water doesn't work, most flavors are not water soluble. Many are oil soluble, but using oil gives you a different product entirely, as does using vinegar for the acid, which is also a solvent.

If your final product is high in alcohol, propylene glycol or acid, it will also be well protected against quick spoilage.

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Is propylene glycol really safe? – ashes999 Oct 11 '14 at 16:49
@ashes999 Like most chemical compounds used as food additives, propylene glycol has its detractors, but it is FDA approved. Don't confuse it with ethylene glycol which is the deadly poison in antifreeze. – Jolenealaska Oct 11 '14 at 19:31

There are two main reasons:

  • Some flavors are soluble in alcohol, but not in water
  • Alcohol is a preservative, helping make the extract shelf stable
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