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If you ask most people to come up with a holiday drink, many of them will probably think of eggnog. This smooth and incredibly rich drink can conjure happy holiday memories, and it can be enjoyed with alcohol and without. But if you’ve never tried it before, it can be tough to fathom what a drink made largely of eggs might taste like. So what does eggnog taste like, anyway?
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What Is Eggnog?
A drink made of eggs probably doesn’t sound too appealing. And if you’re used to having eggs in savory dishes, it might be even more confusing to know that the drink has a characteristic sweet flavor.
Eggnog is made with raw eggs — it includes beaten egg yolks and often whipped egg whites as well. Other ingredients include cream, sugar, and milk.
Nearly every eggnog recipe calls for spices. Nutmeg is almost always included. You’ll usually see cinnamon and vanilla make an appearance as well (either vanilla extract or actual vanilla bean can be used).
Eggnog has traditionally been served as an alcoholic drink, although you can make or buy it without alcohol as well. When it is served with alcohol, eggnog often includes brandy, cognac, whiskey, rum, or some combination of these.
Eggnog is most often served chilled with a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg (or sometimes cinnamon) on the top. However, you can also serve it with whipped cream if you wish.
Eggnog: A Quick History
Lots of holiday traditions began centuries ago, and drinking eggnog is one of them. Back in the 1200s, monks would drink beverages called “possets.” Possets were drinks made of a combination of eggs, figs, and milk. These drinks are a lot different from eggnog as we know it today, but the posset was definitely the precursor to modern eggnog.
Throughout much of history, eggnog was known by the not-very-appetizing names of “egg-milk punch” and “milk punch.” These names only applied to forms of the drink where alcohol was added.
Later on, the more common eggnog drink was one made of sherry, eggs, and milk. All three of these ingredients were too expensive for the average person, so they were enjoyed almost exclusively among the British aristocracy. In this form, the evolving drink began to more closely resemble the eggnog we enjoy today.
Eggnog became popular in America (then the British colonies) in the 18th century. Before the Revolutionary War, rum from the Caribbean was the most affordable alcohol to add. Since the economy of the colonies involved a good bit of farming, eggs and milk were plentiful and inexpensive.
After the war, domestically-made bourbon was commonly added. In areas where people couldn’t afford commercial alcoholic beverages, home-distilled moonshine was a fitting substitute.
Eggnog didn’t become connected to the holiday season until it reached the United States. But as you can tell if you enter any grocery store in the winter, that association has stood the test of time.
What Does Eggnog Taste Like?
Just like with any food or drink, eggnog taste is hard to characterize. Of course, the complex flavor can register slightly differently from person to person. For instance, some people say that eggnog has a bubblegum taste, or that it tastes like bubblegum-flavored whole milk. Why does eggnog taste like bubblegum? It may have something to do with additives and artificial flavors included in store-bought versions.
A lot of people say that eggnog’s taste and texture are both close to that of melted ice cream. Melted custard ice cream might be more accurate, as eggnog is usually richer than most kinds of ice cream.
The spicy flavor of eggnog is present thanks to cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. This flavor is reminiscent of vanilla chai tea — both the spices and the sweet, creamy flavor seem to be at the forefront.
So effectively, we might accurately say that eggnog tastes like melted ice cream with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
That explanation largely covers the non-alcoholic version. So how does eggnog taste with alcohol? Alcohol creates a more complex flavor that many describe as “warm” and/or “heavy.” What exactly eggnog tastes like will depend on the alcohol added. Spiced rum will add a stronger spicy overtone, while whiskey can add distinctive warmth.
Brandy is a sweeter-tasting spirit that is one of the more common additives, and it’s great if you want to avoid the relative bitterness you get when you add rum or whiskey. Cognac is another sweeter choice. For beautifully balanced eggnog, a lot of people recommend adding a mixture of cognac and dark rum.
Since plain eggnog tastes sweet and alcohol is a little bitter, the combination of the two works similarly to bittersweet chocolate. Many people find the sweet/bitter balance to be pleasing.
Is There a Difference Between Homemade and Store-Bought Eggnog?
There’s a whole world of eggnog recipes out there. But for many people, it’s much more convenient to purchase store-bought eggnog and then add alcohol later if desired. Though homemade eggnog is often better, it’s quite possible to find a good eggnog at the store.
The main difference between eggnog made at home and store-bought eggnog is the presence of preservatives and other additives. However, most eggnog brands (and especially those that are well-respected) will have the same creamy taste and texture that goes down your throat smoothly.
It’s worth noting that mass-produced eggnog today is often watered down a little. So compared to the delicious eggnog you make at home, it may seem slightly thinner in texture.
In most cases, the additives in eggnog from the store won’t disrupt the drink’s signature eggy taste. However, some purists say that homemade is the only way to go.
Pre-packaged eggnog has the advantage of being pasteurized. This process helps kill bacteria so your nog can stay in the fridge longer without going bad.
You might be interested to know that some liquor brands sell drinks that combine eggnog and liquor. This can be a good choice if you don’t want to worry about getting the eggnog to alcohol ratio right. Just remember to refrigerate these products after opening!
How to Make Eggnog for Yourself
As we saw above, homemade eggnog is free of many of the additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors found in store-bought eggnog. One option to avoid that and drink eggnog as it was meant to be enjoyed is to make your own version.
Doing this is a lot easier than it sounds. The only real kitchen tool you’ll need is a mixer. Plus, you can adjust thickness and spice levels to suit your tastes exactly.
This video shows you how to make easy eggnog at home. Here are the ingredients you will need — you might already have most or all of them in your home:
- Whole milk
- Vanilla extract
- Egg yolks
- Ginger powder
- Heavy cream
- Cognac, brandy, or rum (optional)
Though it’s a good idea to follow the recipe at least the first time you make eggnog, much of the fun of making your own comes from the ability to customize it. Some people like to add vanilla bean or more spice (like cinnamon and nutmeg).
Though this recipe does not, some recipes will call for whipped egg whites along with the beaten egg yolk. And if you want to adjust the rich texture slightly, you might want to add whipped egg whites as well.
Can You Freeze Eggnog?
You already know that eggnog tends to go bad quickly. So naturally, you might want to make a larger batch and freeze it.
Freezing eggnog isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. For one, its ingredients usually separate when freezing. In a lot of cases, once it thaws, it becomes lumpy and pretty unpleasant to drink.
Ideally, you don’t want to freeze homemade eggnog. The exception is if you want to use it for cooking or baking, as the heat will solve the texture issue.
If you really need to freeze the eggnog you’ve made at home, put some in a freezer-safe bag or freezer-safe container, leaving some space in case the eggnog expands when frozen. But don’t leave it in the freezer for more than six months — after this point, the separated lumps usually cannot be re-integrated into the drink.
Freezing store-bought eggnog is a bit more straightforward. However, you really shouldn’t open it before freezing. To freeze it, place the carton upright on a freezer shelf and let it freeze solid. Once it’s solid, place it in a freezer-safe bag.
If you take your eggnog out of the freezer, the best way to fix the texture is by carefully reheated. You can do this in a pan over the stove on low to medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid ruining the texture. Alternatively, you can heat it in the microwave on low heat, checking and stirring it every 30 seconds.
If you heat up frozen eggnog this way, make sure you consume it immediately. Once you have reheated it, avoid putting it in the fridge or freezer. That can lead to further bacterial growth that may result in food poisoning. It might sound odd to consume eggnog hot, but many people do enjoy it this way.
Can You Have Non-Alcoholic Eggnog?
Yes, of course. Non-alcoholic versions still have the rich and creamy eggnog flavor. Most store-bought versions of the drink will not have alcohol added. This type of eggnog is pasteurized, meaning it will last longer in the fridge than non-pasteurized versions.
If you use a recipe to make eggnog at home, keep in mind that eggnog made without alcohol will spoil more quickly. Raw egg yolks and whipped egg whites often contain some level of salmonella. Over time, the salmonella will multiply and possibly reach levels that can cause food poisoning.
However, if the whipped raw eggs are mixed with alcohol (and especially with hard liquor), the alcohol will slow bacterial growth. If you make non-alcoholic eggnog at home, it’s best to use it within 2-3 days in order to minimize your risk of food poisoning.
What About Dairy-Free Eggnog?
If you don’t eat eggs or just want an interesting alternative, vegan eggnog (usually made with soy milk, coconut milk, or a similar dairy-free milk) often tastes close to the real thing. And as a bonus, since it contains no raw egg yolks, this drink isn’t going to go bad nearly as quickly as drinks made with eggs.
These versions of eggnog are also great if you’re after the flavor but want a lower-calorie option. Between the egg yolks, cream, and whole milk, traditional eggnog is very high in calories (and especially in fat). Coconut milk and similar substitutes aren’t as rich and creamy as actual eggs, but they also have a lighter taste that some people may find preferable.
Just like you can make traditional eggnog with eggs and cream at home, you can also whip up a vegan substitute at home. Exact recipes vary, but most involve some combination of the following ingredients:
- Coconut milk
- Another dairy-free milk like soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, etc.
- Maple syrup
- Ground cinnamon and nutmeg
- Vanilla extract
Just like with regular eggnog, you can add alcohol to this one if you want. Since it’s not as thick and creamy in texture, this type of eggnog might not require quite as much alcohol.
There’s a type of eggnog for nearly every taste! Whether you want to enjoy its creamy taste alcohol-free, try a non-dairy alternative, or enjoy a glass with the added warmth of whiskey, make sure you add some eggnog to your holiday festivities this year.
Here are some quick answers to some commonly asked questions about eggnog:
What does eggnog with alcohol taste like?
You already know that plain eggnog tastes a little like spiced melted ice cream. But what’s eggnog taste like with alcohol? Most people characterize it as being somewhat “heavy” in flavor. Of course, the flavor profile will vary depending on the exact alcohol added; it’s usually whiskey or rum.
Can you get drunk off of eggnog?
If the eggnog contains alcohol, you definitely can. Most eggnogs you find in the grocery store do not contain alcohol, but always double-check the label to be sure!