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Na zdorovie! But is vodka as pure as they say?

March 2018

Vodka is filtered more than many drinks
Vodka is filtered more than many drinks

Only a few decades ago vodka was mainly associated with happy Russians drinking heavily in warm rooms to forget the bitter weather outside.

Then suddenly it became fashionable and today vodka is a very popular drink. For those carefully watching their health, it has also become a drink of choice, often mixed with cranberry juice or similar. This is because vodka is said to be one of the more “healthier” or purer alcohols. This doesn’t mean alcohol is good for you, only that many believe it has less damaging ingredients than other alcoholic drinks.

Basically alcoholic drinks are made by fermentation, or the production of ethanol. This happens when yeast breaks down sugar without any oxygen in the mix. The different drinks are created by using different sources of base “materials”. For example beer is made from barley seeds that have begun to grow (malted barley) and wine is made from grapes. Vodka can be made from a range of fermented grains and in the past has even been made from potatoes.

The fermentation process used in any alcoholic drink also creates other by-products such as carbon dioxide for bubbles, and chemicals called congeners (or fusil oil impurities). The congeners created during fermentation depend on the base materials and are responsible for some of the different tastes, especially in darker drinks such as red wine or brandy. Our bodies find congeners hard to process and they can make us feel ill.

Depending on the drink being created, and because of the fermentation and other processes being used, different types of drinks contain different levels and types of congeners.

The key to vodka is that it is virtually congener free. This is achieved by constant filtering, done again and again to make it as pure as possible. By removing pretty well all the flavoursome congeners, the alcohol becomes virtually tasteless!  But of course this also means that there are no congeners to cause the body problems. You are really dealing with a pure type of alcohol. Most brands are mixed with around 40% of water, but even so vodka can be very strong.

On top of that, other things can be added to drinks for flavour and other reasons. For instance white wine has sulphites added to stop bacterial growth and act as a preservative. This can break down and create sulphur dioxide which can cause a headache. Red wine is fermented longer with skin and pips, which can create not only ethanol but also methanol. This methanol can take longer to process and can cause various problems with the body.

Vodka doesn’t have these problems which is why it is often described as the purest drink and certainly one to give you a reduced risk of a severe hangover the next day. But of course only when taken in moderation...too much alcohol from any source can poison your entire system.

This is also why, apart from the hardy Poles and Russians with their long history of vodka, most of us like to add a mixer full of flavour to vodka to give it some taste. Cranberry is a popular mixer with vodka not only because it tastes nice but also because there are health connotations.

But even with the deepest research and choosing the brand with the utmost care, high alcohol vodka can never be considered a health drink! 


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