This Old Nog

Every year I make some homemade eggnog, which always sounds disgusting but ends up being pretty good. I’ve made versions with both raw, pasteurized and cooked eggs, depending on to whom it will be served. The raw egg version does taste noticeably different from the pasterurized or cooked versions, and has a thinner and more pleasant texture, but does carry a higher health risk. Life, of course, is full of tradeoffs, and this is one of them.

This year, I was doing a little research and came across a number of recipes for “George Washington’s Eggnog”. But something bugged me about this recipe.

It’s not the taste, or the prodigious amount of alcohol, but one of the claims being made on the recipe’s behalf. This recipe calls for the ingredients to be mixed and then left to sit for “at least five days” to “cure.” Some commentators on the recipe claimed that this had an important health benefit, namely that it would give the alcohol time to neutralize harmful bacterial, such as salmonella, that might be in the nog.

This, it seemed to me, was ridiculous. My intuition says that a given mixture of ethyl alcohol and other materials is going to be either sanitary or not after a few minutes; it’s not going to get cleaner over a period of several days. If anything, I’d expect that waiting period would serve as a growth period for any potential infections. I could imagine that the curing would make the drink taste better, but not that it would make it any healthier.

I, of course, am not a food scientist or biologist. But I know of someone who is: Shirley Corriher, author of the superb book Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed (which everyone should own), and semi-regular guest on Alton Brown’s Good Eats. I wrote to Ms. Corriher and put it to her: does the alcohol in this eggnog recipe make it safe to use raw eggs, or is it just wishful thinking? Her reply was to the point: “I’ve seen the “cured” eggnog recipe and though it sounds like a good thing, the alcohol is not sufficient to kill the salmonella.” She suggests using pasteurized eggs from the dairy section of your supermarket instead.

With that, I wish you all well for this upcoming holiday season. Feel free to share your eggnog recipes in the space below, and let us know your tips and tricks. If you’ve never tried a true raw egg eggnog, I think it’s worth a little risk to try it. Use the freshest and cleanest eggs you can find, and of course please don’t serve it to children, pregnant women, or people who are ill or have compromised immune systems. And if you have any extra, feel free to invite me over for a cup.