Friday 13 August 2010


Should I use alcohol in my cooking?/Skal jeg bruge alkohol i min madlavning?/烹饪时,我是否应该用酒浸?

Many Chinese and European cooking call for alcohol to enhance the flavour of the dish. Now that we have a child of our own, I find myself re-visiting this topic. I am just wondering whether what my parents told me is a truth or is it just a myth.

When I was young, my parents told me that alcohol and caffeine will damage children’s developing brain, and I should not drink it. This is the general opinion of Chinese about alcohol, coffee and children, which runs contrary to Chinese cooking. But my mother hardly used alcohol in her cooking. My brother, sister and I always heeded the advice and never drink a drop of alcohol until we became adults. My Danish friends could not believe that I never drink any alcohol or tried any drugs, and in their minds, I have never “come of age”. The Danes believe that if you make something forbidden, it becomes even more desirable, and it will back-fire to make your child even more rebellious. So everything is freely available in Denmark. You can get harsh in Christiania for example.

I turned to my own case to test this hypothesis – my parents forbade me to drink alcohol, but it didn’t make it more tempting for me to try it. In fact, it was a not an issue at all. My parents did not allow me to drink alcohol, and I did not do so. Simple as that, full stop. I didn’t think so much about it. There wasn’t any peer pressure in the school in Singapore, unlike in Denmark, which I believe will be a lot of peer pressure in school. So, in my case, this hypothesis doesn't stand and is overturned.

Fortunately, I happened to marry a total non-drinker. In my Significant Other’s case, he has proven the Danish hypothesis. It was freely available, he tried it, he didn’t like it, he doesn’t drink it anymore. my Significant Other doesn’t drink AT ALL, and on a very very very rare occasion a glass of beer. His grandfather used to give him exquisite bottles of wine. Not wanting to break his grandfather’s heart, but yet not liking wine, my Significant Other would give the wine to his friends and asked them how they like it. When his grandfather asked whether he enjoyed it, he would tell him how good it was etc. without telling him that it was the verdict of his friends who drank it, not his own.

So for both of us, the alcohol policy in our home is an easy decision, although I like very much to use it in my cooking, as I think it enhances the flavour of the dish. But should I use alcohol in my cooking? Does alcohol affects the brain development of children? Does alcohol evaporate during cooking?

Does alcohol affects the brain development of children?

A limited amount of Science suggests that the developing brain is prone to the deleterious effects of alcohol. This is sufficient enough to make me decide not to use alcohol in my cooking.

Does alcohol evaporate during cooking?

Alcohol’s boiling point is at around 79°C. At boiling point, alcohol evaporates.

I have measured the temperature of my stove at no. 2 for simmering, and the temperature reaches above 93°C to above 100°C. So, I can safely simmer on my stove knowing that it reaches a high enough temperature for alcohol to evaporates.

But how much alcohol evaporates and how long it takes to evaporate?

According to page 12 of the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors Release 6 December 2007, here is a summary of the alcohol retained:

1. Alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat – 85% retained

2. Alcohol flamed - 75% retained

3. Baked or simmered for 15 minutes - 40% retained

4. Baked or simmered for 30 minutes - 35% retained

5. Baked or simmered for 1 hour - 25% retained

6. Baked or simmered for 1.5 hours - 20% retained

7. Baked or simmered for 2 hours - 10% retained

8. Baked or simmered for 2.5 hours - 5% retained

Should I use alcohol in my cooking?

Based on the above, I have decided that from now on, I will not use alcohol in my cooking. I would only use alcohol to enhance the flavour of food when serving guests, but it will not be on our daily dining table. It is not that I am paranoid about raising the IQ of J, although, yes, I admit that I am a super-kiasu mom, and will do the very best for my child. But which mother does not want to give the very best she could give to her child!!! It is just that I don’t want to have any slight guilt conscious over being contributory towards any suboptimum brain development in whatever remote way because of the alcohol used in my cooking.

Oh... parenting is sooooo challenging!!! Prayerfully, I hope that this Danish hypothesis will both be overturned and proven by J… after all he may inherit half of the Singaporean “obey the law” gene from me and half of his dad “non-alcohol liking after freely trying it”gene :-)


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