It is hard to imagine the holidays without eggnog, which offers much to like: rich, spicy, and alcoholic. The rich wintertime drink is made by mixing milk and/or cream with sugar and beaten (raw) eggs, flavoring with ground cinnamon and nutmeg, and not heating the mixture. Often, advocaat, bourbon, brandy, rum, whiskey and/or other liqueurs are added to enhance the experience and to bring out the flavors.
But given the dubious safety of shell eggs today, many people are rightfully cautious about the safety of eggnog.
What makes eggnog unsafe?
Everything that goes into a base recipe for eggnog has a potential to carry microbes that are not good for you. If raw eggs are used to make the eggnog, and if the eggs are not cooked to 160F, then the eggnog may contain salmonella. And that’s not all that could be dangerous … read on.
Can you make my homemade eggnog safe? Yes. There are several ways:
• Use only pasteurized milk, cream and eggs. The process of pasteurization involves heating milk, cream and whole shell eggs to a temperature just high enough to kill any harmful bacteria they may contain. If using pasteurized ingredients, there is no need to cook the eggnog.
• Use irradiated spices. Irradiation greatly reduces the microbial load on spices that are generally harvested in conditions that favor bacterial contamination and growth.
• Use commercially prepared eggs or egg substitutes in place of whole shell eggs. Commercially prepared eggs are always pasteurized and therefore do not pose any harm.
• Use pasteurized egg whites if your recipe calls for folding in raw, beaten egg whites.
• Pasteurized eggs generally cost more than non-pasteurized eggs. But you can easily pasteurize eggs at home. Crack the eggs and combine about two tablespoons of liquid from the recipe with each beaten egg (yolk and whites) or just the egg yolk. A recipe calling for three egg yolks would, for example, require six tablespoons of milk or cream or even water. Cook the mixture over very low heat and stir constantly. Use a food thermometer to ensure the mixture is heated to 160F. You may also hold the mixture at 140F for 3.5 minutes. At this temperature, the egg mixture will thicken and coat a spoon. [This method of pasteurization may be used in any recipe that calls for raw or partially cooked eggs. You may use broth or other savory liquids when pasteurizing eggs for Hollandaise or Bearnaise sauce.]
Now, if you have already made eggnog with unpasteurized eggs, there are a couple of ways to make it safe – microwaving or by adding sufficient amount of alcohol to kill all the bacteria.
• Microwave the eggnog to 160F and cool before serving. Remember, eggs are not the only source of bacteria, milk and cream and even spices may be loaded with bacteria. Microwaving instantly kills bacteria and is the best way to sterilize the eggnog.
• ‘Spike’ the eggnog with a high-proof alcohol such as rum (~75.5% alcohol/volume), brandy (~ 50% alcohol/volume), or bourbon (~50% alcohol/volume). Add the high-proof alcohol in a 1:3 ratio to the eggnog, stir well and refrigerate for at least four hours before consumption. Stirring and refrigerated standing allows for diffusion of the alcohol through the mixture, killing every bacterial cell.