When you cook with wine or spirits such as vodka or rum, some of the alcohol burns off, leaving only the flavor behind. That alcohol has to go somewhere, though, and that means it's evaporating and spreading through the air as fumes. Those alcoholic fumes can have a noticeable effect on you, as alcohol absorbed through your lungs can intoxicate you more quickly than if you drank it.
Dishes With Alcohol
Because alcohol's boiling point is lower than that of water, it partially evaporates whenever you cook with it. This means you can prepare foods such as vodka sauce that lose the alcohol but retain the flavor of the spirit. Cooking with wine and spirits doesn't guarantee their alcoholic content disappears, though -- that depends on the duration of the cooking. For example, while a rum cake loses about 75 percent of its alcoholic content after an hour of baking, a flambe made using a spirit like vodka may lose only 25 percent of its alcohol. The alcohol that the dish loses evaporates as fumes.
Inhaling alcohol fumes, cooked or uncooked, can have a noticeable effect. Though everyone absorbs and feels the effects of alcohol differently, inhaling alcohol fumes while you cook has the potential to make you feel tipsy. Your body absorbs alcohol through the lungs more quickly than it does through the stomach, making you feel its effects more quickly than if you'd been sipping on a glass of wine. Ultimately, though, this also depends on factors such as size and tolerance to alcohol, so not everyone who inhales fumes while preparing a marsala cream sauce will necessarily feel the wine's effects.
Dangers of Fumes
Though inhaling the fumes of cooking alcohol can make you feel tipsy, it isn't necessarily safe -- not even as safe as actually drinking the alcohol would be. Alcohol vapor can irritate your lungs and respiratory tract, and because the alcohol goes straight to the brain -- instead of being slowly absorbed through the stomach -- it can make you feel more intoxicated in less time, as well as destroy more brain cells. Though these are typically only concerns if you are intentionally and habitually inhaling alcohol fumes -- in a sauna, for example -- they demonstrate the potential danger for absorbing alcohol directly through the lungs.
If you're concerned about the potential of feeling tipsy from alcohol fumes, you can avoid the vapor's effects relatively easily. When cooking on the stovetop, use a fume hood for ventilation, or open a window and run a fan so the vapor dissipates in the air instead of going straight into your nose or mouth. Eat a light snack before cooking, as well. While you may be inclined to wait until you're hungry to cook, inhaling alcohol vapor on an empty stomach increases your likelihood of feeling its effects.
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