Tis the season for specialty eggnog

Eggnog’s rich flavor and texture have become synonymous with the holidays, but why? And what is it made of, anyway? Keep reading to find out and for some recipes.

There is some debate about eggnog’s history. It’s likely a derivation of “posset,” a beverage served in Medieval Europe made from hot milk with ale or wine (some believe the name “eggnog” comes from the word “nog,” an English word for a strong ale). By the 1700s, eggnog was popular among the aritocracy because eggs and milk were expensive commodities. It included brandy or sherry (possibly to prevent spoilage of the dairy products) and was served warm to combat cold winters. The concoction was served in a small, wooden, carved mug called a “noggin,” which was eventually shortened to “nog” (another potential name origin).

A third possibility suggests eggnog got its name from “egg and grog,” a colonial term for a drink made with beaten eggs and rum. This was shortened to “egg’n’grog” and eventually “eggnog.” The drink came to the American colonies in the 18th century and because dairy was readily available, eggnog was enjoyed by all classes. Alcohol from Europe was heavily taxed at the time, so colonists began using rum in their eggnog because it was inexpensively imported from the Caribbean. Following the American Revolutionary War, domestic whiskey and particularly bourbon became the spirits of choice.

Kitchen records at Mount Vernon indicate George Washington enjoyed eggnog and often served guests a version with rum, whiskey and sherry. By the 1800s, it was commonly served at holiday parties. Traditionally, it was always served as a hot beverage with alcohol, but since the 1960s it has become to popular to enjoy it cold and without liquor.

Today, we know eggnog as a sweetened dairy beverage infused with spices including cinnamon and nutmeg, and sometimes spiked with rum, bourbon, brandy, rye whiskey or cognac. Eggnog is somewhat infamous for its nutrition facts, but many alternatives are available to cut down on calories and fat. There are a multitude of eggnogs made with lowfat or skim milk, soy products or even coconut milk.

But, we only enjoy eggnog a short time each year so it’s worth the indulgence! Served warm or cold, it’s excellent topped with whipped cream and garnished with cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate curls. If you’re enjoying it cold, try adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to keep it chilled and make it extra creamy. Or, blend it with the ice cream for a holiday milkshake.

Keep in mind that dairy-based eggnog can be substituted for milk or buttermilk in your favorite recipes. Try it in cakes, quick breads, muffins, French toast, cheesecake, custard, ice cream or pudding. Add holiday flavor to coffee drinks like lattes or this Creamy Coffee Eggnog, or simply in place of your usual cream or milk. Eggnog ice cream served a la mode over your favorite crisp, pie or holiday dessert is a festive twist, too.

Commercial eggnog rarely contains raw eggs, sometimes using gelatin for a rich mouth feel. However, homemade eggnog recipes call for raw eggs beaten into sugar and milk for a frothy texture; if you do make your own eggnog, it’s recommended to use pasteurized eggs to avoid risks associated with consuming raw eggs. If you want to try making your own, try this recipe for Classic Eggnog.