What Is the History of Eggnog?
Posted on: October 18th 2021
What’s wintertime without eggnog? Fortunately, no one’s had to experience an eggnog-less holiday season for a few hundred years. From the beginning, eggnog was a decadent drink featured at celebrations and holidays. Thirteenth-century English lords and ladies used it to toast to wealth, and the ancient Japanese used a version of it to alleviate colds and sore throats.
Today, eggnog is still a special drink served during holiday celebrations. Learn about eggnog’s storied past and how to make both traditional and non-traditional variations everyone will love.
What Is Eggnog?
Eggnog is a drink traditionally consumed during the winter holiday season. This chilled dairy beverage gets its name from one of its main ingredients — eggs. While many people many not fancy drinking eggs on their own, add a bit of milk, cream, sugar, and cinnamon, and they’ll go wild. Eggnog has been a traditional Christmas beverage for hundreds of years in America, but this country isn’t the only one to partake in this festive beverage.
Many places around the world have different types of eggnog, including:
- Æggekop in Denmark
- Chilled camel’s milk in the United Arab Emirates
- Coquito from Puerto Rico
- Italian bombardino
- Crème de Vie in Cuba
- Jamaican eggnog
- Thai milk tea
- Mexican rompope
- Sabajón in Columbia
As a seasonal drink, eggnog is typically only in stock during the winter months. Luckily, it’s simple enough to make on your own, so you can have it any time of year.
The History of Eggnog
Eggnog is a relatively contested beverage — some love it, and others may question why anyone thought to add raw eggs to a drink with milk and alcohol. Eggnog has a long and storied history, originating even before the invention of modern refrigeration.
The etymology of the word eggnog has old English origins, with “nog” meaning either a strong beer or a wooden cup. The word eggnog seems to derive from both these meanings with the presence of eggs and its strong, alcoholic ingredients.
While no one knows who invented eggnog, most historians and foodies generally agree eggnog originated in medieval Britain. The upper classes were the only ones to have access to the milk, sherry, and eggs required to make the first version of eggnog, so it began as an exclusive beverage. Monks in the Middle Ages added figs and eggs to this beverage they called “posset,” essentially an aromatic eggnog, and the wealthy generally used it for toasts to health and wealth.
Most likely, eggnog became associated with the holiday season due to lack of refrigeration. In the early American colonies, eggnog became a more common drink. Due to the extensive farming opportunities, farmers and everyday people had more access to cows and chickens. And with cows and chickens come milk and eggs, essential ingredients for eggnog.
Surprisingly, our founding father, George Washington, had strong feelings about making strong eggnog. His recipe calls for:
- 1 quart of cream
- 1 quart of milk
- 12 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 pint of brandy
- 1/2 pint of rye whiskey
- 1/2 pint of Jamaican rum
- 1/4 pint of sherry
He omitted the number of eggs, but one dozen seems to be a good ratio. The final instructions included in the recipe were to leave in a cool place for a few days and to taste frequently. Due to the lack of refrigeration, the winter months around Christmas were the only times people could leave a milky, eggy beverage out for any period of time without spoiling.
Unlike the medieval version, sherry became less prominent in the newer American iterations of eggnog. Rum became the popular alcoholic addition due to America’s proximity to the Caribbean islands, where enslaved Africans harvested sugar cane for molasses. An essential ingredient in rum, the molasses trade became crucial in the economic development of the Americas.
Eggnog also has a troubled past. Due to its high alcohol content, eggnog featured prominently in the Eggnog Riot at West Point in 1826. To set the stage, you’ll need to know a little bit about the tradition that spurred the events of that night. West Point, the United States Military Academy, hosted a Christmas celebration every year with eggnog, but with the introduction of the strict new superintendent, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, all alcohol on West Point’s campus was forbidden.
Many students didn’t agree with Thayer’s monastic rules. Eggnog was a traditional part of West Point Christmas, but the new rules barring alcohol complicated the festivities. Not ones to miss out on the fun, the West Point classes of 1826 concocted a plan. Students began trying to smuggle in alcohol from taverns around town, and even from across the Hudson River, to add to their eggnog.
After a scuffle when two monitors discovered a few drunk students, things escalated into a full riot. Once things calmed down, there was significant damage to the institution and the administration expelled almost 20 cadets.
Eggnog’s rich history doesn’t stop in the America’s. Our nearby island relative, Jamaica, has a practically identical drink with a rummy twist. Jamaican eggnog calls specifically for a particular brand of rum made with Jamaican molasses and aged in white oak barrels for up to four years.
Across the globe, the Japanese also developed a form of eggnog they call tamagozake. Made by whisking raw eggs and sugar into warm sake, this drink is more well known for its medicinal properties, including soothing sore throats and alleviating the common cold.
Making Eggnog Safely
There are a few things to keep in mind if you plan on making your eggnog from scratch. Most eggnog recipes don’t include cooked eggs, so these tips will help ensure you’re consuming your eggnog safely:
- Use pasteurized eggs: Pasteurized means that a product has been sterilized using heat or irradiation to make it safer for consumption. If you use pasteurized eggs, you won’t need to do any further cooking when making eggnog.
- Use egg substitute: Most if not all egg substitutes are pasteurized, so they’re safe to use without heating.
- Cook to 160 degrees: If you don’t use pasteurized eggs, you can simply heat the egg mixture to 160 degrees to kill off any harmful bacteria in the eggs. You’ll want to cool it down in the refrigerator, so dividing the mix into a few shallow bowls will help it cool more quickly.
In addition to food safety, be careful about the amount of liquor you include in any alcoholic versions of eggnog. As a sweet drink, it might be easy to over-consume alcohol when drinking spiked eggnog. Start small with your additions of rum, whiskey, and bourbon — you can always add more if you’re looking for a stronger taste.
Why Add Eggs?
Why would someone want to drink a beverage with raw eggs in it, especially given the fact they may contain harmful bacteria? Pasteurization addresses the bacteria concern. As for eggs as ingredients themselves, they feature prominently in baking recipes like brownies, cakes, and cookies, but they also feature in certain no-bake dishes, such as flan, custard, and cheesecake. Recipes often call for adding eggs in three different ways — as a whole, just the yolks, or just the whites.
Whole eggs in a recipe add structure to the batter, meaning it keeps the mixture together and helps it form the desired texture. If a recipe calls for yolks, it’s usually for their fat content. Yolks can emulsify or bind liquids and fats together, and they also enhance the richness of flavors and thicken mixtures. On the other hand, egg whites create airy, light textures such as those in sponge cakes and meringues.
In eggnog, both the yolks and whites are often used to serve both of these functions. Some recipes call for whipped egg whites, which help make the light, frothy texture many enjoy in their eggnog. The yolks also help bind the liquids and fats together in the beverage to avoid separation and give the eggnog a rich, creamy taste. While it may be strange at first, there’s a scientific and flavorful reason to add raw eggs into eggnog.
How to Make Traditional Eggnog
Whether you’re planning holiday parties or just want to enjoy eggnog in the comfort of your home, this recipe is sure to satisfy your cravings for this perfect holiday treat. To make traditional eggnog, you’ll need:
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
- An additional 1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup brandy or bourbon
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg and extra for garnishing
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
To create this traditional eggnog including alcohol, follow these directions:
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks and place the whites in a stand mixer or bowl. Set to whisk or use a hand mixer until soft peaks form.
- While the mixer is still going, add the one tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to mix too much or the whites will fall flat. Carefully scrape into another bowl and set aside.
- In the same mixing bowl, add the yolks and the 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until the sugar dissolves. The mixture should be a pale color. Add the milk, cream, whiskey, rum, nutmeg, and salt and mix on low for one minute.
- Taking the egg whites, carefully fold them into the yolk mixture, being careful not to over mix. If you whisk or stir too heavily, the egg whites will lose their air.
- Place eggnog in an airtight glass container and store in the fridge. This version of traditional eggnog is best when it’s been left to develop its flavor for one to three weeks.
If you’d prefer a traditional eggnog without liquor, this is what you’ll need:
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 4 egg yolks, room temperature
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Whipped cream
- Ground cinnamon
- Ground nutmeg
Instructions for this nonalcoholic eggnog call for cooking the mixture to 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can choose to heat the mixture or use pasteurized eggs, following these instructions if you opt to heat up your recipe:
- Place heavy cream and ground nutmeg in a large bowl with a fine-mesh sieve on the top and set aside.
- Combine the milk and vanilla in a saucepan and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, yolks, sugar, and salt for about three to five minutes or until the mixture is thickened and pale.
- Slowly add the warm milk to the egg mixture and stir to incorporate. Place the mixture back in the saucepan on low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches 160-165 degrees. Immediately strain into the bowl with the heavy cream.
- Place in a shallow container in the refrigerator to cool completely. Leave for 3 hours or overnight.
- To serve, top with whipped cream, ground cinnamon, and fresh nutmeg.
Other Eggnog Variations
While nothing beats traditional eggnog, there are countless variations on this classic drink. Experimenting with different toppings, flavors, and alcohol can elevate your eggnog game and will make your drink the talk of the party — or just the talk of the house if you choose not to share!
Some of these recipes include alcohol*, but others are nonalcoholic so the whole family can enjoy a glass. Even without the alcohol, still enjoy eggnog in moderation — the high-fat content makes it a caloric and heavy drink.
Maybe you’re a history buff, or perhaps someone’s talked you into a medieval-themed Christmas party. Whatever the reason, you can make the original version of eggnog, called posset, in your modern kitchen. While this may not be the most appetizing drink by modern standards, it’ll satisfy anyone who wants to step back in time. You’ll need:
- Thick cream
- Whole spices
The medieval cook who wrote the instructions for this recipe indicated it would become “like a cheese,” so do with that what you will.
Most Puerto Rican families have their own recipes for coquito, and the alcohol percentage can vary widely between recipes. For a basic coquito, you’ll need:
- 13.5 ounces coconut milk — not coconut water or coconut cream
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 4 egg yolks
- Ground cinnamon, to taste
- 1 cup white rum
As with most eggnog recipes, you’ll need to heat and cool the mixture. It turns out best when it’s made a day in advance. Follow these instructions to make your own coquito:
- In a large saucepan, heat the coconut milk, condensed milk, water, whole milk, and cinnamon until it just reaches a boil, and then remove from the heat. Allow it to cool for a few minutes.
- In a bowl, whip the egg yolks while slowly adding about a cup of the milk mixture. Once the milk and yolks incorporate completely, pour everything back into the large saucepan.
- Return to medium heat and warm for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. If you’d like to ensure your coquito concoction is safe to drink, get a thermometer and heat it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Allow the coquito to cool completely before adding your rum. Puerto Rican rum is best in coquito.
Store in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Serve in shot glasses with a dusting of cinnamon and, ¡Salud! You’ve made your own coquito.
A festive take on this “shaken, not stirred” drink is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit. You can use pre-made eggnog or utilize a bit of your homemade concoction to make this martini. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- 1 and 1/2 ounces vanilla vodka
- 1 ounce amaretto liqueur
- 2 ounces eggnog
- Nutmeg, ground
- Cinnamon stick, for garnish
Follow these simple steps to create this festive martini:
- Measure out all your ingredients into separate glasses or bowls.
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, vanilla vodka, amaretto, and eggnog. Shake well and use a strainer to pour into a prepared, chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with the nutmeg and cinnamon stick.
For an extra bit of fancy, you can rim the glass with an assortment of toppings. To prepare a rimmed glass:
- Gather two shallow bowls or plates. In one, add lemon juice and in the other, a few tablespoons of white sugar, turbinado sugar, or even crushed shortbread or graham crackers.
- Dip a half-inch section of the rim into the lemon juice and then again into the toppings. You can also use caramel or chocolate sauce on their own or as a base for the other toppings.
Spiced Chocolate Eggnog
For the chocoholics in the crowd, this spiced chocolate eggnog is a wonderful twist on the classic vanilla flavor profile. For this recipe, gather:
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 3 cups white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 24 egg yolks
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 8 ounces milk chocolate
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon sweet basil
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
This recipe is alcohol-free so the whole family can enjoy it. Set aside plenty of time, as this eggnog needs to cool completely before serving. The steps to make this eggnog are:
- Start by adding milk, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and cinnamon sticks to a large pot and heating over medium-high heat. Continually stir and heat until the sugar dissolves and it’s warmed through. Remove from the heat and set aside for 25-30 minutes.
- Take the bittersweet and milk chocolate and melt. You can do so in the microwave in intervals of 15 seconds, stirring well between intervals, or in a bain-marie — a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be careful not to burn the chocolate, as it may clump up.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and add one cup of the milk mixture once it has cooled. Stir thoroughly to combine. Then, add the yolk mixture into the large pot with the rest of the milk mixture.
- Heat low and slow over medium heat, stirring constantly. Use a thermometer to check the mixture has reached 180 degrees and then remove it from the heat. Carefully remove the cinnamon sticks.
- Fold in the melted chocolate until it’s incorporated well into the mixture. Place eggnog into the fridge and stir frequently to cool evenly.
- While it’s in the fridge, you can make whipped cream or buy some from the store. After a few hours in the fridge, place eggnog in individual serving cups, top with nutmeg and cinnamon sticks, and enjoy.
Make Your Own Eggnog Beverage and Recipes
If you like a particular brand of whiskey, bourbon, rum, or brandy, add a shot to a glass of chilled eggnog and dust with nutmeg or cinnamon to enjoy an easy homemade alcoholic drink. This option is great if you’re serving a crowd with some that want nonalcoholic eggnog and some that prefer a spiked variety.
Some people also enjoy adding eggnog — spiked or unspiked — into a cup of coffee. It delivers the same creamy texture as creamer but adds a wonderful holiday sweetness and flavor. Alternatively, you can even use it to spice up your pancake or waffle mixes. Just substitute eggnog for up to the entire measurement of milk or water.
Use Sauder’s Eggs for the Perfect Eggnog
When you’re making eggnog, you want to be confident the ingredients you use are high-quality and safe for you and your family. Sauder’s Eggs are the perfect choice for all your holiday baking needs, including those recipes that don’t spend any time in the oven. Complete these wonderful eggnog recipes with the best eggs from Sauder’s.