11 Things You Think You Know About Alcohol (That Are Totally False)

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iStock

There are countless urban legends about drinking, from supposed wisdom about what gets you drunk the quickest, to tips on how to avoid a hangover, to rules of thumb for how you should buy and serve a fine wine. Many of them, however, aren’t rooted in science or data, but rather are elucidated from always-reliable field tests that tend to include several rounds of tequila shots. Passed down for years by elder fraternity brothers, teens sneaking their parents’ hooch, and other tipsy teachers, these myths are as stubborn as they are baseless. Here are 11 things you’ve heard about alcohol and drinking that aren’t actually true.

MYTH 1: CHAMPAGNE SHOULD BE CHILLED. 

Most people serve champagne cold, but a 2014 study by a French university found that bubbly remains more, well, bubbly if it’s closer to room temperature. Champagne is fizziest at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (your fridge should be below 40 degrees).

MYTH 2: HARD ALCOHOL WILL GET YOU DRUNK QUICKER. 

Yes, hard liquor has a higher alcohol content than beer. But as long as you’re drinking them at the same speed, a shot of liquor in a mixer should give you the same buzz as a 12-ounce beer. Shots tend to get people more drunk because they take them more quickly than they would drink a beer or a glass of wine.

MYTH 3: EVERYONE GETS HUNGOVER. 

Studies continuously—and controversially—show that about 25 percent of people don’t get hangovers. Lucky folks! It’s possible that this is because they don’t drink as much as they think they’re drinking, or it could be because of some as yet unknown genetic quirk. One study of Australian twins found that genetics were responsible for 40 to 45 percent of the difference in hangover frequency between people.

MYTH 4: BEER WILL GIVE YOU A ROUND BELLY.

There isn’t anything inherently more fattening about beer than any other alcohol. All alcohol is caloric and can lead to weight gain. The reason people associate a big gut with drinking too many brewskies might be because beer is consumed in larger quantities than liquor or wine. Or maybe people who drink beer just happen to also love subsisting on nacho cheese and hot dogs.

MYTH 5: MIXING BEER AND WINE WITH LIQUOR WILL MAKE YOUR HANGOVER WORSE.

There’s a myth (and popular rhyme) that drinking hard alcohol after you’ve had a few beers will make you sick, while drinking the hard stuff before beer will leave you “in the clear.” But the order doesn’t matter. Your body is going to try to process that alcohol no matter the order you drink it in, and if you drink too much for your body to handle, you’ll end up with a hangover (unless you’re one of the lucky 25 percent mentioned earlier).

MYTH 6: YOU SHOULDN’T MIX LIQUORS.

Just like mixing red wine and bourbon is perceived as a recipe for next-morning disaster, some advise against drinking a number of different liquors (chasing gin with rum with tequila). Certain liquors do have a higher likelihood of giving you a hangover thanks to chemicals called congeners, which are found in greater quantities in darker liquids like bourbon. Brandy is more likely to give you a terrible hangover than vodka, but mixing vodka and gin shouldn’t make things any worse than drinking the same amount of gin alone. Go ahead and get that Long Island iced tea.

MYTH 7: DRINKING KILLS BRAIN CELLS.

Long-term hard drinking isn’t great for the brain, but alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells like your mother warned it did. It does, however, impair brain function over time. Drinking can damage the ends of neurons, making it more difficult for them to relay signals. But that’s not quite the same thing as destroying entire cells.

MYTH 8: ALL CHAMPAGNE IS MADE IN CHAMPAGNE.

If you know nothing else of Champagne, you probably know that it’s bubbly and it has to be made in the Champagne region of France. The French take their wine appellations so seriously that they wrote a clause into the Treaty of Versailles to protect them. But America never signed the Treaty of Versailles, and an entire Champagne industry grew up in California. In 2005, an agreement was signed between the U.S. and the European Union to limit the use of the word “Champagne,” but any producer before that date was grandfathered in and allowed to keep labeling its bubbly as Champagne.

MYTH 9: A GIN AND TONIC WILL HELP PREVENT MALARIA. 

While the drink’s origin does lay in making quinine (which was dissolved in tonic water) go down more easily, modern tonic water contains hardly any quinine at all. You’d need to drink gallons and gallons of the stuff to get any anti-malarial protection. 

MYTH 10: SAKE IS A RICE WINE.

You would be forgiven for thinking this, as sake is often sold as a rice wine. But in fact, it’s more like a rice beer. Wines are alcoholic beverages made from fermented grape juice, and some expand that definition to include any and all fruit. But the process to make sake, which includes milling the grains of rice and fermenting them for weeks, is more akin to the beer-making process.

MYTH 11: YOUR MIXER DOESN’T MATTER.

You probably think that it’s the rum in your rum and coke that makes you drunk, but the soda pulls a surprising share of that load. A recent study showed that people who use diet mixers have higher Breath Alcohol Concentrations than people who use sugary sodas. Usually, our bodies consume sugary sodas and treat them as a food, absorbing all of the delightful sugar that slows down the rate our body absorbs alcohol. The lack of sugar in diet sodas means our bodies absorb the alcohol much faster. But more disturbingly, the study found that although the diet soda drinkers were substantially more drunk (they had higher BACs), they didn’t feel any more impaired.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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iStock

For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

Harry & David Just Released a Cats-Inspired Gourmet Gift Collection

Harry & David
Harry & David

Year after year, Harry & David proves itself to be the undefeated champion of helping people gain the favor of tough-to-please recipients on their holiday gift lists. From baskets of cheese to buckets of popcorn, there’s a gourmet food—or collection of foods—for pretty much everyone.

This Christmas, the company has partnered with Universal Pictures to release a line of deluxe gifts that all evoke the enchanting, sophisticated style of the upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical Cats.

The products don’t come with cat ears, furry bodysuits, or pint-sized action figures of Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, and the rest of the star-studded cast. Instead, in true Harry & David fashion, the gifts are decorated with tasteful Cats ribbons and subtle touches of black and gold.

The simplest option for anyone with a sweet tooth is the $30 Classic Sweets Box, which includes dark chocolate-covered pretzels, raspberry galettes, dark chocolate truffles, and Harry & David’s signature Moose Munch popcorn. For healthy eaters or fans of fruit in general, there’s a box of Royal Riviera pears, hand-wrapped in gold foil, which you can purchase with (for $70) or without (for $50) a bottle of Pinot Gris. There are also a few larger dessert baskets with a broad assortment of truffles, caramels, popcorn, chocolate-covered cherries, and more mouthwatering confectioneries.

Though you’d be ill-advised to share most of those desserts with your actual cat, they might be able to enjoy the savory meats from the other boxes and baskets—after all, cats can have a little salami. Items include sausage, salami, smoked salmon, pepper jack cheese, sharp white cheddar cheese, garlic-stuffed olives, water crackers, and roasted almonds, among other things.

In summary, the Cats collection is ideal for these demographics: people who like Cats the musical, people who like Cats the movie, people who like gift baskets, people who like gifts, and people who eat food.

You can shop all the options here, and find out everything you need to know about Cats the movie here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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