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When you cook with wine or spirits, when does the alcohol cook away? Obviously high temperatures will do it, but how low of temperatures will work? Also, does it vary by the type of alcohol?

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The process is called reduction. I'll let someone else answer the main question, as I tend to do it by taste... –  Aaronut Jul 28 '10 at 16:05
    
Aaronut's comment above is in response to my question which was closed as a dupe and merged with this: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/3584/… –  squillman Sep 16 '10 at 1:58

8 Answers 8

up vote 42 down vote accepted

You will never fully cook away alcohol, only reduce the amount. See Alcohol retention in food preparation, or for the quick table, see wikipedia.

They covered this on an episode of America's Test Kitchen, and concluded that surface area matters -- a wider vessel would cook off more alcohol; it wasn't just a function of time.

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It is important to note that the table accompanying the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors Release 6 December 2007 lists a amazing number of foods--all have 100% Ethanol retention levels for the listed food item and cooking method.

Only ALC Beverages listed and simmered as described on page 12 of the table (items with Retention Codes 5001 through 5010) have the decreasing retention percentages listed by BobMcGee and merl.

I had long assumed sufficient heat of sautéing, frying or baking removed most if not all ethanol. I am astonished to discover otherwise.

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A study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory calculated the percentage of alcohol remaining in a dish based on various cooking methods. The results are as follows:

Preparation Method and Percent of Alcohol Retained

  • alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat: 85%
  • alcohol flamed: 75%
  • no heat, stored overnight: 70%
  • baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture: 45%
  • baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:

    • 15 minutes - 40%
    • 30 minutes - 35%
    • 1 hour - 25%
    • 1.5 hours - 20%
    • 2 hours - 10%
    • 2.5 hours - 5%
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If the sauce/soup/etc is above the boiling point of ethanol (about 173 F or 78.4 °C) the ethanol will boil out almost immediately. It can't remain in solution at temps above the point where it becomes a gas.

The other flavors, sugars and spices and all, will remain. Ethanol can't remain a liquid at 212 F or 100 C - physically not possible.

I don't care what Wiki says in this case. Moments after passing 173 degrees, all the ethanol evaporates from the solution, it has to.

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-1, as this is quite incorrect, and you know it from reading several sources, and yet still argue something different, rather than looking up why those sources say what they do. See merl's post, and Joe's post, which are informed by proper chemistry. Substances do not instantly disappear when they reach the boiling point; there is quite a lot of energy required to transition from a liquid and gas. –  BobMcGee Jul 6 '11 at 18:33
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The boiling point of a solution is different from the boiling point of the single components of the solution. If the boiling point of the water is 212 F, and 173 F is the boiling point of the ethanol, the boiling point of a solution of ethanol and water is between 173 F and 212 F; it will be 212 F is the solution doesn't contain ethanol, and 173 F if the solution doesn't contain water. –  kiamlaluno Sep 13 '11 at 7:33

If you add alcohol, some alcohol will remain indefinitely (or at least as long as the food is not a lump of smoking carbon). The proportion of alcohol to water-based liquids will shrink over time, however. (I'm assuming heat here: if there is no heat, or high pressure, then the proportion will remain stable for quite a while).

Alcohol evaporates at about three times rate of water (or to be more precise, the latent heat of evaporation for Ethanol is at 846(kJ/kg) vs water which is at 2257(kJ/kg)) but this relation doesn't hold for the proportion that will be found in your food due to atmospheric pressure and air saturation and exposed surface area...It's actually extraordinarily difficult to work out.

Roughly speaking, though, if you reduce your liquid volume you're burning off alcohol at a higher rate than water. So things that are reduced substantially will have proportionately less alcohol in them, than things that are not (all other factors being equal).

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Alcohol evaporates at increased temperatures very quickly (see Eclipse's answer). What you are tasting are the sugars and other remnants of the alcoholic beverage you used in the dish. Most of the alcohol will evaporate very quickly (there could be a small amount remaining, like 0.00001%) but this is basically nothing.

Boiling off = evaporation
Descreasing volume = reduction

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Inaccurate. After 15 minutes of simmering, 40% of alcohol is retained. After 2.5 hours, 5% is still present. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  ceejayoz Jul 28 '10 at 16:48
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Who says that wiki is correct? I worked in industrial kitchens for 8 years and a biochemistry lab for 10. My experience says otherwise... Plus, a comment will do - no need for a minus one. –  nicorellius Jul 28 '10 at 23:37
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There is a need for a -1 (defined as "this answer is not useful") when, after a comment, you don't edit or delete your answer. The core of your answer perpetuates a myth. It takes a long time to get alcohol content down to 0.00001%. See merl's and Joe's answer for empirical data, or a physicist with some knowledge of statistical mechanics for the fundamental reasons. (If alcohol boiled away this fast, stills would be trivial to build, too.) –  Jefromi Dec 24 '11 at 13:22

Typically when you're "cooking" with alcohol it's as a sauce or a glaze, both of which require fairly high temperatures and would typically be done in a pan on the stove or in the oven.

As you go lower with the temperature it's going to become more of a mixed result. Some amount of the alcohol (say, the part closest to the heat source) will burn off, but some will remain.

Without more specific information about what you're trying to cook and/or accomplish it's hard to say what will work for your situation.

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According to Wikipedia ethanol (which is the alcohol in wine or spirits) boils at 78.4 °C.

Assuming that the ethanol hasn't made a chemical connection with something in the alcohol or food, cooking at 78.4 °C for a 'sufficient' period of time, should remove any trace of ethanol.

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Well.. if it has made a chemical reaction, it is not alcohol anymore :) –  txwikinger Jul 11 '10 at 21:08
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That's 173.12°F –  JYelton Jul 11 '10 at 21:28
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It has made a reaction -- it's an azeotrope : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azeotrope –  Joe Jul 11 '10 at 21:40
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Those examples seem more like the effects of mixtures on physical properties than results of chemical reactions. Water and ClF3 sounds fun though :) –  Kryptic Jul 12 '10 at 3:15
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There's a lot of side discussion here, but the one thing that should be taken away from it: the answer is incorrect. The properties of mixtures are not simply the union of the properties of their components. The alcohol and water both boil, with a boiling point somewhere between that of alcohol and water, and the alcohol boils away faster, but it takes quite a long time to remove most of the alcohol, and you'll remove a lot of water too. –  Jefromi Dec 24 '11 at 13:25

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