What Is Eggnog?

Learn how to make eggnog and get recipes for eggnog ice cream, cookies and more.

Updated on December 19, 2023
Homemade Eggnog for Christmas

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What is eggnog? This creamy beverage sits in mugs on a holiday table.

Photo by: GMVozd/Getty Images

GMVozd/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

If you don't know what eggnog is, exactly, you're not alone. Eggnog has gone in and out of fashion, and, like cilantro, it's one of those things that most people either love or hate. If you do love it, you’ll want to learn how to make eggnog and serve it at your next festive dinner or winter gathering. Homemade eggnog is easy and worth the effort, and any leftovers can be used to make eggnog ice cream, cookies and more.

What Is Eggnog? And What Is Eggnog Made of?

Eggnog is a milk and egg drink traditionally served during the December holidays at large gatherings. You might just want to pull out the punch bowl you inherited from your great aunt for the occasion. In the days before electricity and refrigeration, eggnog was called milk punch and was a drink served only by the wealthy due to the expense of sugar and brandy. Since serving it was a sign of prosperity, toasts to long life and wealth were typically made when it was served.

In the 21st century, most people can make eggnog at home with readily available ingredients. Eggnog is traditionally made with eggs, egg yolk, sugar, milk, heavy cream and vanilla extract. It's often spiked with brandy, rum or other liquor, and topped with freshly grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon sticks.

Homemade vanilla Christmas drink Eggnog in glass with grated nutmeg and cinnamon sticks on gray stone background.

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Homemade vanilla Christmas drink Eggnog in glass with grated nutmeg and cinnamon sticks on gray stone background.

Photo by: wmaster890/Getty Images

wmaster890/Getty Images

What Does Eggnog Taste Like?

Eggnog has a sweet and creamy, custardy flavor that might be cut by the honeyed-sharp bite of alcohol. Thanks to the warm spices traditionally served on top (like nutmeg, cinnamon and sometimes even cloves or star anise), eggnog also often tastes slightly spicy and perfumed, like all the lovely holiday baking ingredients. The texture is thicker than a glass of whole milk, more akin to melted vanilla ice cream. Because the beverage is rich and undoubtedly a treat, it's often served in small crystal or cut-glass tumblers.

Preparing Eggnog for Christmas

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Preparing Eggnog for Christmas

Photo by: GMVozd/Getty Images

GMVozd/Getty Images

How to Make Eggnog

There are two ways to make eggnog: with cooked eggs or raw eggs. Either way, the basic premise is to whisk egg yolks with sugar to increase the volume of the yolks and create a natural thickener. Milk and cream are then added along with cinnamon and nutmeg for the traditional flavor. The final step is to whip the egg whites to peaks and gently fold them into the big bowl with everything else. At this point, you get to decide if you’re going to add alcohol or not.

For the raw version, you just take those steps and it’s done. For the cooked version, you basically make a custard with the egg yolks, sugar and milk. Then you add the cream (whipped or not, your call) and the whipped whites.

In both versions, the whites are not cooked, because uncooked egg whites are safe to eat. If you’ve ever had lemon meringue pie, you’ve had raw egg whites, because only the very top layer of the meringue, the brown swirls, are cooked.

Are Eggnog Ingredients Safe to Drink?

It's smart to keep eggnog safety in mind, especially if you're serving eggnog to children or immunocompromized, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals. A surefire way to make safe eggnog is to prepare it with the cooked eggs. If you're using a recipe that calls for raw eggs, buy pasturized eggs from the supermarket, which have been heat-treated to kill any salmonella.

Preparing Eggnog for Christmas

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What liquor goes in eggnog?

Photo by: GMVozd/Getty Images

GMVozd/Getty Images

What Liquor Goes in Eggnog?

This frothy, rich drink is a great canvas for rum, Cognac, whiskey and all sorts of booze. The best alcohol for eggnog is your favorite, with probably one exception —tequila probably wouldn't be an ideal liquor for eggnog.

Originally, brandy, sherry or Madeira were used to spike eggnog, one more reason why only the wealthy were serving it: the spirits were heavily taxed. When Europeans came to what's now the Americas, they brought the idea of eggnog with them and started using rum, the spirit that was plentiful and wasn’t heavily taxed. After bourbon made from corn entered the picture, that spirit became popular, too.

If you’re making eggnog with alcohol for a large party, you can have a variety of spirits available and let everyone choose their favorite.

Homemade Boozy Brandy Milk Punch Cocktail with Nutmeg

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Homemade Boozy Brandy Milk Punch Cocktail with Nutmeg

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

Eggnog Without Alcohol

Depending on your eggnog ingredients, most eggnog recipes start out virtually alcohol-free. You can either leave your eggnog as is, with no liquor; or, if you like the flavor of rum or bourbon, add a splash of a bourbon extract or rum extract. It's worth noting, however, that all extracts (even vanilla) contain a minute amount of alcohol. If that's a concern, it's possible to find alcohol-free flavorings by searching your supermarkets or online.

Eggnog Recipes 

It wouldn’t be the holidays without eggnog served at a party or two. If you’re serving it, go with Capital Eggnog, it’s a classic. For food safety, this recipe calls for pasteurized egg yolks. If you can’t find them, you can use fresh egg yolks, because in Step 2 you’re cooking them, so no worries.

Classic 100 Egg Nog

Classic 100 Egg Nog

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Here's another classic. It’s festive and decadent, laced with nutmeg and vanilla. We lightened it up by folding in whipped cream and made the booze optional so that it's good for young and old alike

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When you’ve got leftover eggnog or it’s on sale at the market, making a flan with it as the custard base couldn’t be easier. All the flavors are already in the mix, and the caramel is a perfect topping.

FNK NONALCOHOLIC
EGGNOG **Holiday, not red and green, but can be Christmasy
Food Network Kitchen
Food Network
Eggs, Sugar, Kosher Salt, Milk, Heavy Cream, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg, Lemon Zest

FNK NONALCOHOLIC EGGNOG **Holiday, not red and green, but can be Christmasy Food Network Kitchen Food Network Eggs, Sugar, Kosher Salt, Milk, Heavy Cream, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg, Lemon Zest

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

This creamy eggnog recipe has all the ingredients regular eggnog has, the eggs and milk are cooked exactly like any other eggnog and it’s topped with the traditional sprinkle of nutmeg. The only thing missing is the alcohol. Perfect for a party with kids when you only have one punch bowl.

Food Network Kitchen's Eggnog Meltaway Cookies from 12 Days of Cookies for THE ULTIMATE FRIENDSGIVING/12 DAYS OF COOKIES/LAST-MINUTE SIDES, as seen on Food Network

FNK_EggnogMeltawayCookies_

Food Network Kitchen's Eggnog Meltaway Cookies from 12 Days of Cookies for THE ULTIMATE FRIENDSGIVING/12 DAYS OF COOKIES/LAST-MINUTE SIDES, as seen on Food Network

Photo by: Renee Comet ©© 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, © 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Rum, bourbon, vanilla and nutmeg bring all the flavors of eggnog together in these snowy-white puffball cookies. Just like snow, they’ll melt in our mouth.

Food Network Kitchen’s Snowman Eggnog

Food Network Kitchen’s Snowman Eggnog

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©Copyright 2015

Matt Armendariz, Copyright 2015

These decorated cups filled with Snowman Eggnog are the cutest thing ever. You might need two batches - one for the adults with rum or brandy and one that isn’t spiked for the kids. Just be sure you can tell them apart!

Eggnog for Breakfast _ Jelly Doughnuts

Photo by: Levi Brown

Levi Brown

We consider Eggnog Overnight French Toast easy cleanup after a party: have all the ingredients ready and just add the eggnog. The just pop it in the oven the next morning. To make it even more eggnog-ish, give it a dusting of nutmeg when it comes out of the oven.

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Eggnog ice cream and panettone combine in this eggnog dessert recipe.

Photo by: Johnny Miller

Johnny Miller

Eggnog ice cream and Italian panettone create the layers of this rich, festive dessert with all the flavors of the December holidays.

This is the receipe for Coquito

This is the receipe for Coquito

Photo by: Kate Mathis

Kate Mathis

Coquito is a holiday beverage from Puerto Rico and is a great stand-in for eggnog, especially if you’re hosting several holiday parties. Or have both: eggnog with alcohol and coquito without.

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