Experimentation has long been at the heart of the craft cocktail movement. After all, it’s all about flavour and sometimes the more unusual the better. But some cocktails ingredients may not be as safe as you assume.
Now, these are not the normal disclaimers that are made about alcohol. We are assuming that everyone has the basics of alcohol consumption, blood alcohol content, legal limits, what it feels like when you’ve had too much to drink, and the serious illness of alcoholism.
What we’re talking about are the ingredients that you may not realise can have some very serious side effects. Now while most cocktail ingredients pose no safety concerns, there are a few that require more careful consideration.
Especially in a home bar situation, where ambitious drink-makers may not quite know what can, in fact, be dangerous.
Ranging from allergies to toxins and bacteria to binding agents, some Cocktail ingredients that may seem cool or even ‘natural’ can have devastating effects.
Trying new ingredients can open your mind (and palate) to innovative ideas, which we highly encourage. But keep in mind that unless you are a scientist or a pharmacist, there are more than a few hotly discussed additives that may end up being more dangerous than delicious.
With Halloween on the horizon and the party season ramping up into full gear, we encourage you to be safe rather than sorry; after all, if you accidentally kill your friends who will you drink with ….
While it may give a cool, opaque black look for Halloween Cocktails, activated charcoal is more dangerous than it looks. As a binding agent, activated charcoal gained a reputation for removing toxins but it can absorb other things as well, including certain medications, such as birth-control pills, tricyclic antidepressants and heart medication.
Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Herbs can be a source of very potent toxins, which in low concentrations can be useful, but in higher concentrations or when mixed with other medications can produce side effects. Wormwood contains thujone, which can be toxic and cause convulsions in high doses. Gentian may interact with blood-pressure medications.
Unless you’re living in Canada, there’s a fair chance that Cannabis is still federally prohibited. But legalities aside, lit’s well worth realising that different strains of marijuana, can have vastly different THC content in any final infusion. Aside from that always keep in mind that you’re mixing alcohol with another mind-altering drug.
Making your own Tonic Water may seem like a cool thing to do but it’s far too easy to get the levels of quinine wrong. Especially in powder form, quinine can be extremely difficult to filter and too much can easily lead to cinchonism and other health problems. If you must make it use bark chips instead of powder but even then proceed with extreme care.
While citrus peel may seem, and often is, innocent enough, it’s worth considering the possibly dangerous events with which it’s been in contact. Many citrus fruits are sprayed liberally with pesticides and even wax or dye, so do your stem a favour and only use organic fruits and always wash the fruit thoroughly before use.
Dry Ice/Liquid Nitrogen
Dry ice can be extremely dangerous if mishandled; it is the solid form of carbon dioxide. Aside from the fact that it can easily explode, dry ice can cause suffocation if emitted in an unventilated area and severe frostbite upon contact with skin or organs. Sure it looks great when creating a bubbling cauldron effect, just make sure you handle it safely (and never with bare hands).
Eggs can carry Salmonella bacteria, so ensure they are pasteurised, have no cracked or damaged shells and have preferably been refrigerated. Remember Salmonella sits on the shell, so minimize the egg’s contact with the shell and don’t crack the egg on the edge of your tin. If in doubt, use Aquafaba (chickpea water) is a great (and also vegan) alternative.
Fat-washing may sound super hipster but if done incorrectly can lead to all sorts of strife. If mishandled, the rendered meat-fats that get “washed” into spirits, can bring with them the risk of E. coli and salmonella. Make sure any meat products such as bacon are fully cooked, and always keep refrigerated and use within a few days.
Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s safe. Not only are some flowers highly poisonous in themselves, but you often can’t be sure that they haven’t been strayed with pesticides. Always best to stick to known edible flower suppliers, either at your local Farmer’s Market or through online specialty suppliers.
You wouldn’t think that Grapefruit would be any kind of threat but they are finding that this citrus contains a chemical compound that impacts the body’s ability to process many prescription and over-the-counter medications. Don’t take these interactions lightly. Some can cause potentially dangerous health problems.
Nutmeg is a little like Cinnamon, in that a little might be find but too much is deadly. Nut meg may be safe if only a little is grated over a drink but it contain myristicin, a psychoactive compound that can be dangerous in higher doses. Take extreme caution if infusing into high-proof spirits and only use the result in very small doses.
Nuts are one of the most common and serious food allergens in modern life. Whether we are talking about Peanuts (actually a legume), Pecans, Hazelnuts and/or Pistachios, these common nuts can lead to reactions as strong as anaphylactic shock. If using nuts in any of your drink recipes, make sure everyone knows.
Orgeat may be great in Tiki drinks but people often forget that it’s made with Almonds. So yes, Orgeat can cause allergy reactions in those who are unaware. Always make sure that people know that this syrup is Almond based and check that none of your family or friends have any sort of Almond or nut allergies.
The kernels at the centre of peaches, apricots and cherries contain a small amount of a poisonous compound called amygdalin. Normally you’d have to eat a fair number to experience ill effects, but if you’re soaking raw pits in high-proof alcohol, you may be pulling out a lot more of these poisonous compounds than you realize.
Many people combine drinking alcohol with smoking cigarettes. But when tobacco shows up in a cocktail, it can make for a risky combo. There is no truly safe homemade tobacco tincture because it’s hard to know how exactly much nicotine is actually in each batch. Aside from the fact that it’s probably illegal, you really don’t want to be giving your guests nicotine poisoning.
Sure Tonka beans have that wonderful vanilla-cinnamon-almond flavour that’s perfect tropical drinks but too much of it can cause quite severe liver and kidney damage. This is again another natural-seeming product where it’s often hard to work out how much is too much. Keep your firm’s and family safe and just avoid it altogether.