What you should know before taking another sip of eggnog

Either you like eggnog, or you don't — there's no in-between. There's nothing else like this seasonal drink. It's thick, super-sweet, and has a taste you just can't quite put your finger on, right? But it's a staple at many holiday dinners and functions, and those who love it just can't do without it when the season rolls around. If you're a lover of eggnog, though, there are a few things you should know before you take your first sip (or chug) this holiday season.

History of eggnog

Americans didn't invent eggnog. In fact, it's older than you probably imagine. The complete history of the drink isn't known, but it's believed that it started in medieval Britain. It wasn't called eggnog then — which makes total sense because the hot milk drink, usually served with ale, wine, or another alcohol, did not yet contain eggs. Instead, it was referred to as "posset," and it was probably the monks who added eggs, and sometimes figs, into the mix. Since ingredients like milk and eggs were expensive and hard to come by, this drink was typically reserved for the wealthy and special occasions. Eventually, the popularity of the drink declined in England, but the American colonies had plentiful access to the ingredients and brought the drink back with vigor. They did make one major change which seems to have stuck — they replaced the top-shelf liquors with cheaper ones, like whiskey and rum.

What's in eggnog

The dictionary defines eggnog as "a drink made of eggs beaten with sugar, milk or cream, and often alcoholic liquor," but no recipe is ever that simple. It varies depending on the preferences of the chef, and the drinker. Some recipes call for bourbon, and other call for rum. Many even say the alcohol is an optional addition. You may also notice that the spices aren't completely consistent in eggnog. While most recipes call for nutmeg, some blend it into the mixture, some use it only as a garnish, and others prefer both. Some adventurous chefs even include cinnamon.

There's not as much egg as you think

Just because it has "egg" in the name doesn't mean you're getting a lot of egg. In fact, according to FDA regulations, only 1 percent of the product's final weight must be made up of egg yolk solids for it to be labeled as eggnog. Eggnog-flavored milk must have even less yolk — only 0.5 percent. And if you're a stickler for having actual eggs in your nog, read the carton carefully. Some products, labeled as "holiday nog" contain no egg at all.

It's not the healthiest choice

If you're counting your calories, you may want to just remove eggnog from your holiday menu altogether. Just 1 cup of the drink contains about 343 calories and includes 19 grams of fat and a whopping 21 grams of sugar — that's a lot considering the World Health Organization says adults should intake a maximum of 25 grams of sugar each day. (And during the holidays, there's plenty of sugar to go around.) It is possible to create a healthier version of eggnog by swapping the ingredients for smarter options, but I'm betting it won't be quite the taste you're craving. If you're insistent on the real thing, consider rationing it out.

There's a risk of salmonella

Since traditional eggnog uses egg yolk, the risk for salmonella is a real one. If you prefer to buy your eggnog from the grocery store, you're pretty safe — store-bought eggnog has likely been pasteurized to reduce your risk and make it safe to drink. If you're making your own, though, be sure to take steps to avoid making yourself or others sick. One solution is to use egg products or pasteurized eggs, but the FDA says there's another way. They've provided simple steps to safely make your own eggnog, which includes heating the egg and milk mixture to basically pasteurize it yourself. And if you think adding a healthy serving of alcohol will make it safe to drink, you're wrong. The FDA says that's probably not going to happen. (One scientific experiment that aged a high-alcohol eggnog in the fridge for several weeks was safe, but it hasn't been sufficiently tested to be certain, so don't count on it.)

Americans love eggnog

Even though eggnog is an old drink, it's not going away anytime soon. In fact, the popularity of the drink is rising. In 2008, eggnog production was reported to be an estimated 124 million pounds a year, a huge increase from 61 million pounds in 1970. That's a whole lot of eggnog to sell in just three or four months of the year.

Eggnog for special diets

We live in a world where dietary restrictions are plentiful, but that doesn't mean you'll have to forgo your favorite holiday drink. One recipe from Gluten Free shows a way to make the drink gluten-fee, dairy-free, and egg-free. It's also possible to find store-bought options tailored to some restrictions. If you look hard enough, there's a good chance you'll find the option that fits your diet — although the chances that it will taste the way you remember the drink are smaller. You have to pick your battles, though, right?