Where Did Eggnog Come From?

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful …” or at least that’s how it’s depicted in song in the weeks before Christmas when many envision sitting before a roaring fire with a cup of eggnog.

In the U.S., the traditional drink is passed around from October through December, when sales of the store-bought variety fall precipitously after Christmas.1 In the last 50 years, sales in grocery stores have quadrupled. Although it’s impossible to measure the popularity of the homemade version, it’s estimated people in the U.S. drink more than 135 million pounds of it annually.2

While most eggnog is consumed over a short two months of the year around Thanksgiving and Christmas, retailers have noticed that the colder it is outside, the more eggnog they sell. Sales in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. outstrip the Southern states, but even in areas that are normally cold, when the temperature goes up, sales go down.

Despite fluctuations in sales around cold weather, culinary historian Andrew Smith reports that eggnog was traditionally a Southern drink when, in the early days of the U.S., alcohol consumption at Christmas was frowned upon.3

The Original Nog Was Made With Wine or Beer

The original eggnog made its first appearance around the 13th century in England.4 Only the wealthy could afford eggnog as it was made with liquors, eggs and milk that were rare foods for commoners. Large estates had farms and there was no refrigeration that would allow the ingredients to stay fresh.5

Most believe the first iteration of eggnog was the British “posset.” This was a hot milk drink that included ale. Posset may have been used to treat colds and flu when the drink was mixed with ale and spices.6 The upper-class mixed it with sherry or brandy instead of beer.

Since milk, eggs and sherry were foods only the wealthy could afford, eggnog became associated with toasting for prosperity.7 It wasn't until the 1700s when the drink was brought to the Americas that it became tied to the holidays.

Since many of the colonies had farms that were full of chickens and cows, eggnog made the jump from the aristocracy to the rest of society. However, sherry was still expensive in the Americas because of heavy taxing, so cheaper rum from the Caribbean was added instead.8

Eggnog first made an appearance in written prose in a comic poem by Jonathan Boucher in 1775. But the earliest connection with Christmas came in the Virginia Chronicle in 1793 when it was reported:9

“On last Christmas Eve several gentlemen met at Northampton court-house, and spent the evening in mirth and festivity, when EGG-NOG was the principal Liquor used by the company. After they had indulged pretty freely in this beverage, a gentleman in company offered a bet that not one of the party could write four verses, extempore, which should be rhyme and sense …”

The drink has become a tradition across the world, with a few alterations depending on the country. In Mexico, it's known as rompope, which was a drink created in a convent in Puebla.10 The basic recipe adds cinnamon and rum or grain alcohol. In Peru, it's called biblia con pisco and made with Peruvian pomace brandy.

The Germans call their drink Biersuppe and it’s made with beer. And, in Iceland, they have a soup resembling eggnog that’s served as a hot dessert without alcohol. People who love the drink say the store-bought variety doesn’t come close to the taste and texture of what you can make at home.

What’s in a Name?

The drink is still sometimes called “egg flip” in Britain, referring to how it was made. Some in Australia also call it an “eggflip,” made with vanilla, milk, raw egg, sugar and grated nutmeg. Kidspot.au writes it “is a healthy, nutritious meal in a glass. Just don't tell the kids that there is an egg in it and they will never know.”11

It is a mystery how the word “nog” came to be associated with eggnog. There are several theories, none of which have been proven. One says the word nog was the name of a strong beer made in East Anglia, England, that had a higher alcoholic content than other types of beer or ale.12 When eggs were added, the drink became eggnog.13

Another says the word comes from the word “noggin,” which today means a person’s head, but in Middle English meant a carved wooden mug in which people drank alcohol. Another theory says it came from the word “nug,” which is a type of ale drunk in Scotland that is warmed by a fire poker.

And finally, a theory that isn't as plausible says the drink was named only after arriving in the colonies, coming from the term “grog” that refers to the rum early Americans used in their eggnog.14 The term grog morphed into nog and became eggnog. Wherever the term originated, it started showing up in the early 19th century in England and America.

Is There a Raw Egg in Your Nog?

Traditionally, homemade eggnog is made with a raw egg or two, depending on how much you’re making. However, if you’re getting the store-bought variety, you’ll find the FDA limits the amount of raw egg to 1% egg yolk, which is barely enough to say that there is an egg in the drink.15

Along with the minuscule portion of an egg are several other ingredients you may not be able to pronounce, as well as pasteurized milk products, sweeteners and artificial flavors.16 If you choose to make your own healthy recipe at home, I highly advise only using eggs from certified organic and true pasture-raised chickens from a trustworthy local farmer.

Eggs from conventionally farmed hens can increase your risk of infections and diseases like salmonella, as bacteria proliferate in livestock raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where conditions are cramped and unsanitary.

Local farmers that grow their hens in certified organic and true pasture-raised environments use stainable methods, including clean and spacious coops with adequate access to sunlight and room for the hens to forage for their natural food.

This is why salmonella contamination is rare in these animals. You can see the difference in the yolk of eggs harvested from CAFOs or pasture-raised chickens. Egg yolks from CAFOs are a light-yellow anemic color, while egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens are a rich orange color.

The same is true for raw milk. Many believe that pasteurized milk is safer than raw milk from grass fed cows, but this simply isn't true, provided the raw milk is from a high-quality source. Pasteurization is necessary for commercial milk since the cows are exposed to contamination and disease and loaded with antibiotics that proliferate antibiotic-resistant infections.

The pasteurization kills the bacteria but leaves the protein shell in the milk. Raw milk from grass fed, pastured cows that are raised in clean and healthy conditions do not present these dangers. Instead the milk is teaming with nutrients, beneficial bacteria and probiotics, which are benefits you simply cannot get from CAFO milk.

Fun Facts About the Traditional Holiday Drink

Whether you are a fan of the rich egg/milk mixture or think it’s a drink best relegated to long-past traditions,17 eggnog has an interesting history. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the first U.S. president enjoyed eggnog during the Christmas season. His recipe had an unhealthy amount of alcohol and sugar and didn’t specify the number of eggs needed. Printed in his words, Washington wrote:18

“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry — mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

Dwight Eisenhower loved to destress by cooking and concocted his own eggnog recipe that called for “one dozen egg yolks, 1 pound of granulated sugar, 1 quart of bourbon, 1 quart of coffee cream (half & half), and 1 quart of whipping cream.”

The tradition of drinking eggnog laced with alcohol during the Christmas season was brought to a halt at West Point Academy in 1826. Earlier in the year, Col. Sylvanus Thayer, who was known as the “father of West Point,” forbade alcohol on campus. What followed became known as the Eggnog Riot.19

It began when some cadets smuggled liquor on campus for a holiday party and proceeded to get inebriated. By the end of the night, there were smashed windows, broken furniture and gunshots. No one was hurt, but one month later 19 students had been court-martialed and 11 were ultimately expelled from the school.20

In 1920 a British journalist, Pierce Egan, invented an eggnog drink made with rum and brandy. He called it the “Tom and Jerry.” Some believe the Tom and Jerry cartoon was named after the drink.21

Delicious and Healthy Holiday Treat

Whether you enjoy it each year or are considering trying it this year for the first time, using a homemade eggnog recipe is your best choice for appreciating the real flavor of the drink and avoiding unnecessary ingredients from the store-bought variety.

It's important to remember that when alcohol is consumed in excessive amounts it can wreak havoc on your liver and overall health. The good news is that you can enjoy a healthy and delicious eggnog drink without alcohol. Judy Peacock, a Mercola.com reader, shared her personal healthy eggnog recipe that is delicious, alcohol-free and perfect for all ages. Consider trying it this season.

Healthy Holiday Eggnog Recipe

Serving Size: 1

Ingredients

2 or 3 raw pastured eggs

Your milk of choice, such as grass fed cow's milk or coconut milk, enough to fill your glass or mug

A dash of nutmeg or vanilla

Raw honey to taste

One scoop of whey protein powder (optional)

Procedure

  1. Put the eggs, milk, honey and whey protein powder (if using) in a mug or glass. Add a dash of vanilla or nutmeg.
  2. Use a hand blender to blend the mixture until frothy.
  3. Consume immediately.
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