Learn the story of this favorite Christmas cocktail.  

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When you break it down, eggnog — a combination of milk, eggs, sugar, cream, and alcohol — sounds a little unappetizing. So how did this unusual concoction become commonplace at holiday celebrations here in the United States? To answer that, we'll go through eggnog's history, starting with its European roots and ending with the modern-day eggnog you're most likely familiar with. And if you're looking for top-rated eggnog recipes, you've come to the right place. 

History of Eggnog

Eggnog is believed to be derived from a drink called "posset," a warm ale punch made with eggs and figs that was popular among 13th century British monks. With time, the drink merged with varying milk and wine punches, and eventually sherry was added to the mix. Because all of these ingredients were scarce in Europe at the time, and thus, reserved for the wealthy, eggnog (which literally means "egg inside a small cup"), became a popular drink for toasting to health and wealth. 

So how did eggnog go from the drink of the European elite to a common holiday drink in America? The drink was brought across the pond with American colonists, where farms and dairy products were plentiful. You know what else was plentiful? Rum. This spirit, which came from the Caribbean, was far more affordable and less heavily taxed than brandy or other spirits that were popular in Europe. For a little bit of American history, here's George's Washington's recipe for the very stout eggnog he was said to have served to guests at Mount Vernon, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac

"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 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well." 

Variations of Eggnog 

Eggnog has gone on to take many forms according to local tastes. Here are just a few common variations: 

  • American South: It's no surprise that bourbon whiskey — a distinctly Southern spirit — became the liquor of choice for eggnog in the South
  • Puerto Rico: Coquito is Puerto Rican eggnog made with rum and coconut milk or juice. 
  • Mexico: Rompope, or Mexican eggnog, is flavored with Mexican cinnamon and vanilla, and is usually spiked with rum.  

What Is Eggnog Made Of? 

Today, eggnog is usually made of some combination of eggs (either just the yolks or the yolks and the whipped egg whites), sugar, milk, cream, nutmeg, and sometimes booze. 

We're all familiar with the cartons of store-bought eggnog that grace supermarkets every December. They're made with essentially the same ingredients as homemade eggnog, but often with the addition of stabilizers, thickeners, preservatives, sweeteners, etc. to make up for the lower percentage of egg and milk fat. And of course, you usually won't find these spiked with booze (you'll have to do that part yourself). 

If you're not a fan of store-bought eggnog, give homemade eggnog a try. It's an indulgent treat for sure, but it only comes around once a year. 

Does Eggnog Have Alcohol? 

Eggnog is commonly spiked with rum, bourbon, or brandy, but it's certainly not a requirement. Today, it's not unusual to find nonalcoholic eggnog on the table for everyone to enjoy. 

two glasses of eggnog with peppermint stick
Credit: Kim Cornelison/Meredith

Is Eggnog Safe? 

By now, the following question has probably crossed your mind: Is it safe to drink eggnog that has raw eggs in it? Fair question. Store-bought eggnog is pasteurized, meaning any potentially harmful bacteria is killed. However, there is a risk of Salmonella growth when making homemade eggnog with raw, unpasteurized eggs. 

And although alcohol can significantly inhibit bacterial growth, it cannot be relied on to kill it completely. To avoid any potential risk, try using pasteurized eggs. Another option is to cook the eggs, like Chef John does in this homemade eggnog recipe. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, "Eggs must be cooked to 160 degrees F to kill bacteria such as Salmonella that may be present." 

How to Make Eggnog 

There are countless eggnog variations, but in general the process looks like beating together egg yolks, sugar, milk, cream, and rum or bourbon (optional). Then, separately beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and combine with the egg yolk mixture. If you're nervous about the whole raw eggs thing, you can also make eggnog with cooked eggs, just be careful not to curdle the eggs. Learn how to make eggnog using this method here

Favorite Eggnog Recipes

Here are a few of our most popular eggnog recipes to get you started: 

Ways to Use Eggnog

Of course, we think eggnog is best served out of a punch bowl at holiday gatherings; but in the case that you have leftover eggnog you're looking to use up, check out these Christmas desserts enhanced with the addition of eggnog, whether store-bought or homemade. Here's a favorite use for eggnog we wanted to call out: If you have leftover eggnog from Christmas Eve, use it to make this Eggnog French Toast on Christmas morning.