STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

What makes eggnog so addictive?

It's the time of year for seasonal food trends: apple begets pumpkin spice begets butternut squash and sweet...

Posted: Dec 21, 2018 12:27 PM
Updated: Dec 21, 2018 12:27 PM

It's the time of year for seasonal food trends: apple begets pumpkin spice begets butternut squash and sweet potato-rich foods. And now peppermint and eggnog.

Some of these are more universally enjoyed than others. But I wondered what exactly makes eggnog such an enticing treat between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I asked some experts in the sensory and food technology fields for insight.

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Consumer products

Dairy products

Food and drink

Food products

Kinds of foods and beverages

Sugar

Sweeteners

Sweets and desserts

"It's like ice cream. ... It's cold, and it's sweet, and it tastes good, especially when you haven't had it for 10 or 11 months," said Steven Young, a consulting dairy and food technologist based in Houston and principal of Steven Young Worldwide, a technical and marketing consultancy.

Eggnog or ice cream?

In fact, eggnog dates back decades, and it was often consumed as a riff on classical French vanilla ice cream or custard.

"You would start by taking just regular ice cream mix with egg yolks in it, which are added for color and flavor," Young said. A manufacturer might add more yellow color to the mix, in order to make it even more compatible with the egg yolk, similar to the color of a manila folder, according to Young. And then of course, you add vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon.

"It's a lot easier to take plain ice cream mix and 'dress it up' to become eggnog. For all intents and purposes, that's what eggnog has been," Young said.

Ice cream mix consists of cream, milk and sugar, and it is very thick before it's whipped and frozen because there's no air in it. But the thickness is perfectly suited for making eggnog, as it allows the mixture to be stable enough to tolerate being diluted later with alcohol, ultimately giving it a mouthfeel and flavor that is compatible with what you are looking for in the final product, Young explained. "That's the dance."

The 'milky way'

Alternatively, rather than drawing off a classic ice cream mix, companies may create an eggnog beverage from whole milk that is heavy and thick enough to withstand the rigors of ice as well as alcohol, Young explained.

An ingredient known as pasteurized sugared egg yolk (which is also used in French vanilla ice cream mix) is added to the milk, acting as a source of eggy flavor and color. The mixture is then heat-treated (pasteurized and cooled to refrigerator temperature) to ensure that it is safe to consume.

"You have caramelized sugar with cooked egg and dairy, and it unifies beautifully with the vanilla and brown spirits," said Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products. "For a lot of people, it's the richness of the fat and flavor of the custard that gives eggnog its sensory appeal."

Some companies sell eggnog bases, which are pre-formulated mixtures of ingredients with specifically designed flavor qualities. These mixtures can be incorporated into milk or an ice cream mix, and they offer manufacturers a convenient, efficient and microbiologically safe way to produce large scale quantities of eggnog.

These mixes can also be formulated to be compatible with specific varieties of eggnog, for example, reduced fat or fat-free milk-based nogs or plant-based nogs, such as soy, almond and cashew.

As with other food products, the quality of eggnog ingredients matters. According to Civille, prepackaged eggnog made with powdered egg and artificial vanilla flavors or nonfat dry milk powder will not offer a rich, eggy nog.

"It should be made from real whole milk cooked to a custard with real eggs, and it should have real vanilla in it," Civille said.

The role of sugar in eggnog

Could the amount of sugar in eggnog also contribute to its "addictiveness"? Sugar's addictive properties have been studied, and ice cream mix used to make eggnog contains its fair share, both from the milk sugar lactose and from added sugars.

"Mathematically, basic eggnog has a lot of sugar, but by the same token, you have to expect it to have enough viscosity, flavor and sweetness to be diluted later with ice or alcohol and still be able to carry its sensory appeal," Young said. "There is a lot of to manage, and this puts pressure on the inherent sweetness of the mix, in order to deliver the desirable sensory appeal of the finished beverage."

A quick look at the nutrition facts labels for a sampling of store-bought eggnog reveals that the holiday drink often tops 20 grams of sugar -- the equivalent of 5 teaspoons -- for a mere half-cup serving.

"The amount of sugar will depend on the recipe and brand you buy. Some have tons; others don't ... but if it is loaded with sugar, it can become a dessert instead of a sweet beverage," Civille said.

Forbidden nog?

So we have a chilled, sweet, milky beverage, similar to ice cream and milkshakes. I wonder, is there something else that I missed when it comes to the magical appeal of eggnog?

I pressed Young once again to tell me the secret behind the allure of the holiday drink.

"We love it maybe because it's cold and sweet -- and all of a sudden, we get it for three or four weeks ... kind of like 'forbidden nog,' " he said.

"The day after Christmas, it's over," he added. "If any is left in the stores, you have to do something with it, because it just won't sell. And after the first of the year, the novelty of eggnog goes down to zero."

Absence makes the stomach grow fonder, I guess.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 154411

Reported Deaths: 3836
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10409104
Hinds10279202
Harrison7313112
Jackson6566128
Rankin5887106
Lee529496
Madison5014107
Forrest389786
Jones369088
Lauderdale3594147
Lafayette338253
Washington3246108
Lamar297850
Oktibbeha252362
Lowndes247064
Bolivar244384
Panola232653
Neshoba2249121
Marshall222851
Leflore208591
Monroe206778
Pontotoc204231
Lincoln197366
Sunflower192655
Warren180258
Tate177751
Union171926
Copiah167940
Pike165359
Yazoo160140
Scott159430
Itawamba157635
Alcorn155628
Pearl River155368
Coahoma152743
Simpson152653
Prentiss151331
Adams144752
Grenada143345
Leake139744
Holmes133461
Covington128639
Tippah128430
George128325
Winston125526
Hancock124341
Wayne121323
Marion119446
Attala119334
Tishomingo112443
Chickasaw109432
Newton108229
Tallahatchie98127
Clay94727
Clarke93653
Jasper85223
Stone80615
Calhoun78713
Walthall77629
Montgomery76926
Carroll74115
Lawrence73814
Smith73216
Yalobusha73128
Noxubee72717
Perry68326
Tunica62619
Greene61522
Jefferson Davis59017
Claiborne58916
Amite56615
Humphreys54719
Benton50018
Quitman5007
Webster46714
Kemper45018
Wilkinson40522
Jefferson37112
Choctaw3617
Franklin3555
Sharkey32417
Issaquena1204
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 252900

Reported Deaths: 3638
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson33526501
Mobile20103365
Madison13723151
Tuscaloosa13366154
Montgomery12552236
Shelby1079677
Baldwin9051137
Lee787266
Morgan696451
Calhoun6598121
Etowah656167
Marshall647357
Houston541038
DeKalb498137
Cullman462443
St. Clair441956
Limestone440445
Lauderdale426754
Elmore421164
Walker3735111
Talladega370157
Jackson340423
Colbert332042
Blount306140
Autauga281842
Franklin257434
Coffee250015
Dale239054
Dallas231532
Chilton228939
Russell22663
Covington225034
Escambia202331
Tallapoosa187291
Chambers182750
Pike161514
Clarke161019
Marion144736
Winston137523
Lawrence133436
Pickens126518
Geneva12508
Marengo123424
Bibb120418
Barbour118911
Butler118642
Randolph105522
Cherokee105124
Hale98131
Fayette94616
Washington93219
Clay92824
Henry8896
Monroe83011
Lowndes80929
Cleburne78814
Macon75522
Crenshaw72230
Bullock70119
Lamar7018
Conecuh70014
Perry6916
Wilcox64818
Sumter58622
Greene43518
Choctaw43114
Coosa3664
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
26° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 21°
Columbus
Clear
22° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 22°
Oxford
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 23°
Starkville
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 23°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather