Wednesday 22 February 2012

Critical thinking is better than criminal drinking

I assume that most professional chefs know that alcohol doesn't 'burn off' when cooking a dish that it has been added to. A significant proportion of the alcoholic content remains. Tests by various food laboratories has shown time and again that this is so. For example, the University of Idaho, Washington State University and the USDA’s Nutrition Data Lab have used gas-liquid chromatography to determine how much alcohol remains in food after various cooking scenarios. I can precis their results by saying that the quicker the food is cooked and served, the more alcohol remains: alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat - 85% alcohol retained; flambé (alcohol flamed) - 75% alcohol retained; no heat, stored overnight - 70% alcohol retained; baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture - 45% alcohol retained. Even food that is baked for two and half hours (150 mins with alcohol stirred in) will retain a minimum of 5% alcohol content (see the full table of data by clicking here).

So why do TV chefs persist in telling us that it burns off during cooking? It firstly raises some serious issues about their knowledge of food science. But, secondly, it's perpetuating the myth because they are seen as experts. It's something called False Authority Syndrome, where we believe something because someone 'expert' tells us it is so. I've written about this several times (see here and here and here) and the need to check facts before accepting them. There has never been a time in human history when being a critical thinker was more important.

But, even if we set aside lofty ideals about truth and accuracy ... don't you want to know just how much alcohol you've had when you leave that restaurant and drive home?

Ref: Augustin J, Augustin E, Cutrufelli RL, Hagen SR, Teitzel C (1992). "Alcohol Retention in Food Preparation". Journal of the American Dietetic Association 92 (4): 486–8. PMID 1556354.

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