You have this close friend or relative who is a recovering alcoholic. They’ve successfully quit drinking, and they’ve been sober for a long time. You reach into the cabinet and grab a bottle of wine while cooking. It’s second nature. Pull it out, pop the cork, add it to the recipe. But can alcoholics cook with alcohol? Can you make them a dish from a recipe that calls for alcohol?
It’s not as odd of a question as you might think. In fact, asking it is pretty awesome. It means you care, and it means you’re willing to go the extra mile to help your friend or relative stay sober. So let’s break this question down in two ways; first, cooking for a friend who used to be an alcoholic and second, cooking as a recovered alcoholic.
Cooking For a Friend Who Used to Drink Excessively
The holidays are upon us, and that means a lot of delectable recipes that call for wines and other types of alcohol. Pork, chicken, beef—it can all be deglazed with wine. Some sauces call for an alcohol preference to infuse flavor. But what if you’re cooking for someone who was or is a recovering alcoholic? Maybe they’re in treatment or part of AA. What should you do? Consider:
- Taste Triggers: If you think of addiction as a disease, the answer to your question becomes immediately clear. If your friend were deathly allergic to lemons, you wouldn’t cook with them because even trace amounts could trigger a negative response. For alcoholics, recovered or in recovery, the taste of alcohol can act as a trigger. It can trip cravings, and that can set them up for disaster. Using alcohol to infuse flavor probably isn’t a good idea.
- Alcohol Doesn’t Burn Off: It’s a myth. Alcohol doesn’t burn off completely during the cooking process. com has a chart displaying how much alcohol is retained after cooking, and it might surprise you. A dish needs to bake or simmer for up to 2 hours to reduce the alcohol retained to 10 percent. The average dish calls for alcohol to be added to boiling liquid, which can retain up to 85 percent of the alcohol. For someone fighting alcohol addiction, adding it to a dish can be dangerous.
The biggest challenge for a recovering alcoholic is craving. If they were never a wine drinker, the taste of wine in a dish shouldn’t trigger a want to drink. However, if they were a bourbon drinker, cooking with bourbon or similar tasting alcohol could trigger a craving.
You also need to consider your friend or relative’s wishes. Have they sworn off all alcohol? If so, cooking with it could undermine their resolution.
Can an Alcoholic Cook with Alcohol?
What if you are a recovered (or recovering) alcoholic? Can you safely cook with alcohol? First, all of the above applies to you. Taste can trigger a relapse or cause hard to resist cravings. Second, alcohol doesn’t completely burn off. Reintroducing it to your body could prove to be a setback. But there’s another aspect you need to consider; will cooking with a bottle of alcohol tempt you to drink it straight?
You might be able to consume alcohol that’s been cooked with no side effects. But if you’re the one preparing the meal, can you only cook with that alcohol? You have to ask yourself what your limits are and then respect those limits, adapting as needed.
Foods to Be Cautious Of
Spotting drinks with alcohol, that’s easy. Foods are harder. Some can be addiction triggers, even when they have a limited or negligible alcohol content. Here’s a list of foods to be cautious of if you or someone you cook for has ever struggled with alcoholism:
- All wine vinegar
- Bananas Foster
- Beer bread and beer-batters
- Champagne-flavored jams
- Cherries Jubilee
- Cooking wines
- Dessert glazes and compotes
- Liquor-flavored chocolates
- Non-alcoholic beer and wine (some of which contain trace amounts of alcohol)
Remaining cognizant of these foods and your recipe choices is important. For some recovering alcoholics, consuming foods with alcohol in them can be extremely upsetting. Despite their not knowing about the alcohol being present before eating, they could take it to mean a relapse. Some will even use it as a means of justifying a return to alcohol use and abuse.
3 Rules to Live By If You Cook with Alcohol
If you’re a chef who loves to use alcohol in their recipes, there are a few rules to live by, especially if you’re cooking for someone who is or may have been a recovering alcoholic.
- Always warn your guests of your choice to cook with alcohol.
- If you know or suspect someone who is choosing to remain alcohol-free is attending, adjust the recipe so that it is alcohol-free.
- Expand your cooking skills with good alternatives to alcohol.
Bottom Line: The use of alcohol is voluntary. Some people chose to drink it while others abstain. Some who used to have an alcohol problem can drink socially and cook with it; others can’t. Can alcoholics cook with alcohol? Yes, some can. But some can’t.
If you’re questioning the use of alcohol in cooking because of a friend or relative, ask them for their input. They’ll likely appreciate your consideration. If asking feels too awkward, find a recipe that doesn’t call for alcohol.
If you’re a recovering or recovered alcoholic, cooking with alcohol will be a judgement call. You’ll have to decide whether you can handle it or if it’s something best left out of the mix. Using alcohol to cook doesn’t equal a relapse, but it could perpetuate a return to alcohol by way of cravings and taste triggers. Only you can set and hold to your limits.
Worried about relapse? Why not take a look at our blog about it entitled, Do All Addicts Relapse? It will help you with recognizing the cues of relapse and learning how to avoid a return to alcohol.