Pisco sour is one of the many popular cocktails that are made with raw egg whites as a featured ingredient. However, most of us have been advised to avoid eating raw eggs because of concerns that they can make us sick with Salmonella. At the same time, cocktails have been made with raw egg for years, so, naturally, people feel unsure about how risky it actually is and why.
While consuming raw egg whites in Pisco Sour can never be guaranteed to be completely safe, the risk of salmonella infection is minimal if you use fresh, safely-handled eggs and prepare the cocktail following safety guidelines. People who are susceptible to salmonella infection are advised to avoid consuming raw eggs.
Below, we’ll go through the details of what Salmonella is and why it can cause problems, along with some of the ways to protect yourself when making drinks that contain raw eggs. We will also look at the question of why you would want to put eggs in a cocktail in the first place. Finally, we have collected several suggestions for alternative ingredients if you prefer to make your fizz or sour cocktail without egg.
Why is There Raw Egg in Cocktails?
Egg whites have a long history as a cocktail ingredient but can be rather unexpected for those encountering an egg white drink for the first time. Classic drinks like Pisco Sour, Pink Lady, and Whiskey Sour are the best-known examples of cocktails containing frothy egg whites, while a few drinks like eggnog and flips use both egg whites and yolks for a creamy, rich result.
Although eggs seem to be an unlikely beverage component at first glance, egg whites play an essential role in both the texture and flavor of cocktails. The proteins in egg whites create a creamy, foamy consistency when shaken, and help to balance out the acidic flavors in sour drinks.
In a Pisco Sour, the egg white is shaken together with the other ingredients to create a silky foam that floats on the drink. The foam can’t easily be replicated by using other ingredients.
The flavor of a Pisco Sour depends on the balance between the herb flavors of the aromatic pisco, the tart lime juice, creamy egg white, and a bit of bitters. Removing egg white without a suitable replacement will give you an unbalanced result that lacks the subtleness of the original pisco sour recipe.
Given that background, it’s easy to understand why some people think it is worth the minor risk of Salmonella infection to enjoy their favorite drinks containing raw egg.
What is Salmonella, and is it Dangerous?
Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is the result of ingesting salmonella bacteria, most often from raw or undercooked foods. The bacteria can cause an infection in the intestines. The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
Most infected people will recover from salmonellosis within a few days without receiving medical treatment, but it can become more severe in some cases. Infection is more likely to occur in the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, and is more dangerous to these groups as well.
Although it is rarely this serious, salmonella infection does kill about 420 people in the US each year. It’s hard to pinpoint the food that caused salmonellosis in most cases, so we can’t estimate how often eggs are the culprit, compared with other undercooked foods or other causes.
Even though serious illness leading to hospitalization or death is relatively uncommon—as with any type of food poisoning—salmonellosis is an unpleasant experience that’s best avoided whenever possible.
Reducing the Risk of Salmonellosis in a Pisco Sour
There’s no doubt that cocktails made with raw eggs are safer now than they used to be. That’s because, in recent years, there have been advances in the regulations on how foods that carry salmonella bacteria—including eggs—are cleaned, stored, and shipped. In general, consuming raw eggs is no longer as dangerous as it was even twenty or thirty years ago.
A vaccine against Salmonella for chickens was developed in the late 90s, and most laying chickens raised in the United States are treated with it at a young age. However, the vaccine does not address all strains of Salmonella.
Additionally, although the vaccine protects against the development of Salmonella inside the egg, it does not affect bacteria growing on the outside of the eggshells. Most salmonella bacteria are transmitted from the shell, not the egg white or yolk.
Even with the regulations in place to ensure eggs are safer than before, it can be challenging to know the provenance of the eggs being used in the cocktail. If you’re ordering your Pisco Sour in a bar, you don’t have as much control of the source, storage, and handling of the egg as if you make it at home. If the potential for food poisoning is a concern, you can follow a few simple guidelines to reduce the possibility of bacteria getting into your drink:
- First, when making egg white cocktails at home, follow the recommended precautions for egg safety. Purchase eggs from a refrigerated case, and always store your eggs at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. In general, fresh eggs are safer. If you’re planning to consume any part of the eggs raw, be sure to use them within three weeks. It is safest to store the eggs in their original packaging.
- For extra safety, the FDA recommends you choose eggs that have been pasteurized to destroy Salmonella or use a pasteurized egg product instead of fresh eggs. Look for labels that indicate pasteurization on the packaging.
- Finally, when you are ready to mix your Pisco Sour, be extra cautious when breaking the egg and separating the yolk. You want to make sure the exterior of the eggshell doesn’t come in contact with any of the edible parts of the egg. Break the egg into a separate container than what you’re making your drink in, and don’t use the eggshell or your hands to separate the white and the yolk. Always wash your hands and any utensils that came in contact with raw eggs or eggshells.
In a bar, you can always check in with the bartender on the precautions they take to handle eggs safely. They should be able to give you an answer that reassures you, but if they don’t, you might want to switch to a drink that doesn’t use egg whites.
If a bar promotes their egg white cocktails as featured drinks, it’s likely that they will be mindful of safety guidelines and follow them carefully. They will be making these drinks more frequently and, therefore, be using fresher eggs.
Be sure to watch while the bartender is preparing your Pisco Sour. Some bars store egg whites in a batch (usually inside a bottle kept in the refrigerator) instead of using a fresh egg for each order. Although that’s clearly convenient for the staff, it also means that a single tainted egg can contaminate the whole container.
Making a Pisco Sour at home gives you more control over how your eggs are handled, but some businesses also prioritize safety practices when it comes to raw foods. By following these steps, you should be able to significantly reduce the chance of inadvertently introducing bacteria from eggs into your cocktail so you can enjoy it safely.
Does the Alcohol in a Pisco Sour Make it Safe to Drink?
Some people believe that egg white cocktails are safe to consume because the alcohol content, or perhaps the lime juice, would kill any salmonella bacteria present in the drink. Although it’s tempting to believe this simple explanation, it’s unfortunately not accurate. At least, not in the way it’s commonly understood.
The amount of alcohol content in pisco or other hard liquors used in cocktails is simply not high enough to kill salmonella bacteria. This fact makes sense if we consider that most hand sanitizers are as much as 60%-80% alcohol, while pisco’s alcohol content is about half that. Pisco has an alcohol content comparable to rum, whiskey, or vodka.
Does the Lime Juice in a Pisco Sour Make it Safe to Drink?
When combined with alcohol, the acidity in the lime juice in a Pisco Sour does seem to make it somewhat effective in killing salmonella bacteria in a drink. A study performed in Brazil showed that it would take at least nine minutes for a highly contaminated cocktail to be completely safe to drink.
Interestingly, it seemed to be the combination of alcohol and citrus juice that caused the bacteria to eventually die off since controls of each ingredient separately showed that bacteria could live longer in just alcohol or just lime juice than it did in the mixed drink.
So, should you let your Pisco Sour sit on the bar for nine minutes before you drink it? You certainly could, but this is a drink that really tastes best when consumed right away. It will start to lose its foamy head as soon as it is made, which is the primary purpose of the egg being included as an ingredient in the first place.
Also, as a Pisco Sour gets closer to room temperature, it can start to develop a noticeable egg smell, which some people compare to the odor of a wet dog. Most consumers find the smell unpleasant, so this is not a recommended way to avoid food poisoning from a Pisco Sour. This is a drink best consumed fresh.
Although the alcohol and lime juice in a Pisco Sour will eventually kill off any possible bacteria in the drink, it’s likely that the sacrifice in flavor would be more than most people prefer. For that reason, you might want to review possible substitute ingredients instead.
Substitutes for Raw Egg in a Pisco Sour
It is clear that the best way to eliminate the risk of salmonella infection from a Pisco Sour is to remove the egg whites altogether. But there’s no avoiding the fact that egg whites play a significant role in the composition of this cocktail. Luckily, there are a few options that can be used in place of egg whites to get similar (if not exactly identical) results.
Aside from salmonella-related health concerns, people may have other reasons to look for a substitute for the egg whites used in shaken cocktails. For bar owners, it may not be worthwhile to keep perishable eggs on hand on the off-chance they’ll have an order for an egg white cocktail. Consumers with egg allergies or vegan diets would also be interested in a way to partake in these cocktails without this particular ingredient.
Unfortunately, just leaving out the egg white will significantly change the flavor of the drink. As with many recipes that call for eggs, it’s hard to get an exact match using substitutes. There is a silky mouthfeel and long-lasting foam produced by using egg whites that results from their unique protein content. However, professional and home bartenders have experimented extensively to come up with some alternative options.
Pasteurized Egg Whites & Powders
If the eggs themselves are not an issue, a pasteurized egg white product or egg white powder would be great options. Since these products are pasteurized, and there is no eggshell to carry the bacteria, you can get a similar result with virtually no risk of Salmonella.
Plus, both products are relatively shelf-stable compared to fresh eggs. As with all the substitutes on this list, purists may argue that the resulting cocktail doesn’t measure up to one made with fresh egg, but others say the results are virtually indistinguishable.
For those who can’t or prefer not to have eggs at all, you can look into using aquafaba instead. Vegans are probably already familiar with the many uses of aquafaba, which is the liquid in which certain beans—most frequently chickpeas—are cooked or stored. Aquafaba is often used as an egg substitute where a creamy consistency is needed, such as in vegan mayonnaise or meringues.
In cocktails, aquafaba foams perfectly when shaken, but may not balance sour flavors quite as much as eggs because of its low protein content. It is also not completely flavorless and can give the drink a slightly salty taste.
Another vegan option that can add a unique flavor to your pisco sour is to use a wheat beer, as detailed in this recipe. This version is going to be farther from the traditional taste of a Pisco Sour than some of the other options mentioned here.
Still, it did interest us since using beer as an emulsifier gets closer to replicating the protein content of the original recipe than some of the other options on this list. If you’re otherwise a beer drinker and have the inclination to test this out, it’s certainly worth a try to see if you like it.
Specialty Cocktail Products
Finally, products like Ms. Better’s Bitters Miraculous Foamer and Fee Brothers Fee Foam are specifically made to replicate the qualities of egg whites in cocktails. Since they are specialty cocktail products, they may be more of an investment than most people want to make for their home bar, but these egg white substitutes can be found in high-end restaurants and bars across the country.
They are vegan and have the added bonus of avoiding the egg smell that develops on egg white drinks if they’re not consumed quickly enough.
Clearly, there are multiple options for making a Pisco Sour without using egg whites. In fact, several other alternatives have been used successfully that we did not mention here, such as Vegan Meringue Powder, VersaWhip, and agar powder. These products are typically meant to mimic specific properties of eggs for various baking or cooking purposes, but they also function in the same way when used in cocktails.
Since there are a number of choices available to cocktail drinkers who don’t want to consume raw egg whites, it’s very likely that you can find one that suits your dietary choices and flavor preferences.
Most people who drink Pisco Sours and other drinks that contain raw egg whites will do so without ever encountering any health problems. However, the only way to completely eliminate potential food poisoning is to avoid the foods that might contain those bacteria.
Salmonella is known to be transmitted through raw or undercooked eggs, among many other foods, so you are exposing yourself to some risk of infection by consuming them. You can minimize the chances of salmonella infection from egg whites by following safety guidelines for food handling, or you can cut your chances to zero by using one of the egg white substitutes suggested in this article.
We hope these tips will help you feel secure about enjoying your Pisco Sour safely while dining on one of Peru’s 17 Best Foods.
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