What came first, the egg or the nog?

The holidays are upon us, and what better way to welcome in another Christmas season than by enjoying a glass of eggnog? Traditionally, this sweet egg-based bevy is served cold, with some cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled on top and a dash of rum added. But, in medieval England, the birthplace of this festive drink, it was served a different way—hot.

The exact year that eggnog was invented is not known, but what historians do know is that it was first named posset and that it was made with hot milk and spices for the purpose of being a flu remedy. During the 13th century, there are records of medieval monks adding eggs to the recipe and consuming it for enjoyment.

As we move forward a few centuries, to the 1700s, we start to see recipes using cream, egg yolks, nutmeg and sherry. During this time period in England, it was mostly the wealthy who could enjoy eggnog as the ingredients were hard to come by.

In the 1800s, eggnog made its way across the Atlantic Ocean into the Americas. During this time, wine and brandy were heavily taxed. Rum, however, was quite inexpensive due to the trading with Caribbean colonies.

In the Americas, farmland was plentiful, so eggs, sugar and milk were easily accessible. And thus, eggnog, as we know it today, was born. Not long after this new discovery, people began to experiment with adding liquor. After the American Revolutionary War, it became more difficult to import rum. Whiskey, moonshine and brandy became rum substitutes and were added to the nog, which had gained much popularity by this time. Even George Washington served eggnog to his distinguished guests. But his version was a bit more boozed up than other versions. Historical records show that the former U.S. president enjoyed his nog with whisky, brandy, rum and sherry, blended with cream, milk, eggs and sugar. I can only imagine the humorous, drunken conversations that took place in his office.

The cool thing about eggnog is that it’s a recipe that can be adapted and changed in so many different ways. In Mexico, they have rompope, which is sort of like an eggnog punch. First invented by nuns, in the 1600s, who added almonds, for texture, and used only egg yolks, so it has a dark-yellow colour.

In Puerto Rico, they call it the coquito (little coconut). This rendition swaps milk for coconut extract/milk. Spices, condensed milk and rum are also added.

In the Netherlands, they call it Advocaat. Invented by Dutch colonists, this version of eggnog is very thick, almost like custard. Brandy or cognac is added and it is topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cocoa powder.

In Japan, they have Tamagozake (卵酒 or 玉子酒), a.k.a. “egg sake” or “sake-nog.” Here the main ingredient is heated saké, with honey, sugar and raw egg added and then blended until creamy.

In Chile, their version is called Cola de Mono (monkey’s tail). Coffee is added to cream, spices and sugar, along with the national Chilean spirit de Pisco (Pisco is a brandy).

There are also some awesome vegan nog recipes floating around as well. And, of course, there is pumpkin-spice eggnog—for all of those autumn lovers who want to enjoy the flavours of fall in the winter season. Many other variants are on the market, too: mint, vanilla, sugar cookie, chocolate. As for me, I like to make my nog from scratch and add a little bit of Canadian maple whiskey.

It is possible that eggnog may be one of the most-versatile beverages around. So how about the name … Where did that come from?

Let’s go back to medieval England. Babson College professor Frederick Douglass Opie states that the term eggnog came from a “combination of two colonial slang words—rum was referred to as ‘grog,’ and bartenders served it in small wooden mugs called noggins. The drink first became known as egg-n-grog and later as eggnog.” Looks like neither the egg nor the nog came first but were both created together. I kind of like the egg-n-grog term. But whatever you want to call it and whichever version you are drinking, you will enjoy a lovely, sweet beverage that is essentially “Christmas in a cup.”

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