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The Eggheaded, Noggin-Filling Story of Eggnog

There’s something deeply polarizing about eggnog. People either love it or hate it and of those that love it, even they are usually at opposing sides when it comes to homemade nog versus the commercial variety. Whether you love it have drank gallons of it this year or hate it and gag at the very thought of it, here is a little trivia about the milky treat.

Image Via texascooking [Flickr]

What the Heck is A Nog Anyway?

The true origin of the drink is hotly debated, as is the reason for its name. Some, including Alton Brown explain that “nog” was a 17th century slang for a strong beer brewed in East Anglia, England. Others say that the name was a combination of the words “egg” and “grog,” a term for a drink made with rum. When the words are put together to form “eggngrog,” it’s easy to see where “eggnog” would come from. As for the origin of the drink, it is believed to have come from posset, a medieval drink made with warm milk, booze and spices. One thing’s for sure though, before the drink came to America, it was popular with British aristocrats –but they called it an Egg Flip.

Its Patriotic Roots in the New World

In England, only the rich could afford the fresh eggs and milk required to make “egg flips,” but when the drink crossed the Atlantic, it soared in popularity as practically every American had access to these fresh ingredients and some kind of hard alcohol. Perhaps the biggest difference between the American eggnog and the British predecessor though is that brandy and sherry were the most common alcohols used in England, but these two items were heavily taxed in America so the locals instead turned to rum –which was particularly cheap thanks to a close trade association with the Caribbean. When the Revolutionary War made it more difficult for the colonists to find rum, they instead turned to using bourbon in its place –which is the most common alcohol used in eggnogs today.

George Washington was a huge proponent of the creamy mixture and helped cement it into the nation’s history. In fact, he kept eggnog on hand all year long. Of course, his was not just any eggnog. White House records show that his recipe included rum, rye, whiskey, sherry and brandy.

Need more proof of how important eggnog was in our fledgling nation? Look no further than the Eggnog Riot of 1826. It all started when some students at the West Point Military Academy, where alcohol was prohibited, smuggled some whiskey into their barracks to make eggnog for their Christmas party. As officials started to crack down on some of the drunk cadets, other drunken revelers started smashing and burning property at the school. By the time the riot was over, twenty cadets and one enlisted soldier were court-martialed. Amongst the many rioters, though he wasn’t court-martialed, was the future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.

Image Via indigo_jones [Flickr]

About the Drink Itself

Eggnog is essentially a milk and egg custard and the base is almost identical to ice cream –except that the traditional alcoholic varieties have too much alcohol to freeze.  Those that cook their eggnog before serving it actually make a real custard.

While the CDC says that you should always cook your eggnog prior to consumption in order to kill off any possible salmonella contamination, Alton Brown claims that if your mix contains at least 20% alcohol, is kept below 40 degrees and sits for at least a month, the alcohol will kill off any bacteria. The alcohol also managed to keep the milk from going sour and if you don’t cook the eggnog, it takes at least a month for the flavor to really develop. Alton Brown has a great booze-heavy recipe on Mental Floss if you want to make some of your own at home.

Want the traditional eggnog flavor without alcohol and the risk of salmonella poisoning? Then try using the new pasteurized eggs available at most grocery stores. They’re pasteurized at a steady, low temperature to kill of bacteria without cooking the eggs themselves.

Old School or New School

As for the commercial varieties, there is a reason why real eggnog fans will always badmouth the store stuff. Under U.S. law, commercial eggnogs only need to contain at least 1% of a drink’s final weight to be made from egg yolk solids. If you buy the cheaper alternative “eggnog flavored milk,” it only has to have .5% egg yolk solids. Other than that, commercial eggnog can also contain milk, sugar, modified milk ingredients, glucose-fructose, water, carrageenan, guar gum, natural and artificial flavorings, spices, monoglycerides and colorings.

Image Via chotda [Flickr]

Need an Alternative?

You lactose intolerant eggnog fans are in good company and people have been working for a long time to develop something you can drink without worry. In fact, nondairy eggnogs have been around at least since 1899, when Almeda Lambert printed a recipe for eggnog in her Guide for Nut Cookery that featured a drink made from coconut cream, eggs and sugar.

I hope all you eggnog fans enjoyed this article, but before you celebrate too much, you’d better head to the store and grab a few more cartons –or get to mixing up some of your own, before it heads away for the season.

Sources: Wikipedia #1 and #2 and Mental Floss #1, and #2


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