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What is Eggnog?

Ingredients, history, and modern varieties.

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Eggnog

Commercial Eggnog

Photo by Abraham Williams [flickr]

Eggnog is an egg and milk based beverage that is popular in the United States and Canada and usually served from Thanksgiving through New Years Day.

Eggnog is typically made with milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and brandy, rum, or whiskey. Additional spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla may be added. The drink is so popular that many varieties, both alcoholic and non-alcholic, are available on the market today, as well as various other eggnog flavored food products.

History

References to eggnog date back to the 1800’s when, just as today, it was served as a refreshment during the winter holidays. Eggnog of the 19th century consisted simply of sugar, milk, eggs, brandy, and rum. The beverage was prepared and consumed cold, was not as sweet as its modern counterparts, and was typically much higher in alcohol content.

The true origins of this drink are unknown, but there are a few theories. Eggnog may have developed from on or two other similar drinks of its time, mainly posset or egg flip. Posset is a spiced mixture of milk and ale that was heated until the milk curdled. Eggs were occasionally added to posset and this may have eventually lead to the development of eggnog. Egg flip is another drink similar to eggnog, which consists of eggs that were mixed, or “flipped”, with spirits, but contained no milk or dairy.

The name “eggnog” may have come from the wooden mugs called "noggins", which were often used to drink ale and other alcoholic beverages. Another possible origin of the name comes from an abbreviation of the phrase “egg n’ grog” referring to a drink made with egg and grog. Grog is a term used to describe any alcoholic beverage made with rum.

Modern Eggnog

Because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk of the 1800’s, cream is often added to create that classic creamy taste and texture. A few low-fat varieties of eggnog are available on the market, which use gelatin, guar gum, or other thickeners to create a cream-like consistency without the fat. Non-alcoholic varieties of eggnog are as popular today as the original alcoholic version.

Vanilla is often added to eggnog today because it compliments the creamy texture. Eggnog is often served with nutmeg or cinnamon grated on top for extra flavor. Whipped cream or white chocolate shavings are also sometimes added to eggnog, making it a true modern dessert beverage.

Dairy free and vegan versions of eggnog have been popping up on shelves in recent years. These beverages are typically made using soy, rice, coconut, or almond milk and contain flavorings and thickeners to create a taste and texture similar to that of real eggnog.

Safety

With an increase in awareness of food safety, food products containing raw eggs have come under a great deal of scrutiny. For this reason, it has become popular to serve eggnog heated. Because eggnog is very similar to custard, heating the drink not only decreases the microbial content, but it also thickens the beverage.

Commercial eggnogs, especially the non-alcoholic variety, rarely contain any raw egg due to the safety concerns. When eggs are used, they are typically pasteurized, which alters the texture of the drink. Natural or artificial flavorings, thickeners, and stabilizers are often used to create the flavor and texture of the classic egg drink without the use of raw eggs.

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