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What’s in This?: Mulled Wine

Ah, nothing like puking some heavily spiced wine through your nose on Christmas morn

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition: Mulled wine, the ingredients of which have been dissected in detail down below. Mulled wine, for anyone unfamiliar with curious holiday beverages, is a traditional spiced wine cocktail imbibed around Christmastime. Likely invented by the Romans, one of the earliest mentions of mulled wine can be found in The Forme of Cury, a medieval English cookbook compiled in 1390, which suggests grinding together cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom and grains of paradise, then blending that medley with red wine and sugar before getting epicly wasted on the stuff.

While no consistent recipe exists for mulled wine — versions of it appear around the world, such as Germany’s glühwein and Sweden’s excellently named gløggcontemporary versions commonly consist of some combination of orange, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel seed or star anise, cloves, cardamom, ginger, sugar and red wine, of course, which are the ingredients that will be analyzed down below. So grab your favorite mug and prepare for one of the gnarliest hangovers of your life.

The Ingredients

1) Red Wine: The belief that red wine is good for your heart has persisted for decades, convincing Dougs and Karens that having six glasses a night is part of a balanced diet, rather than an unhealthy coping mechanism. In truth, any evidence suggesting that red wine can help you avoid heart disease is shaky at best, and studies continue to come forward claiming that even moderate alcohol consumption is dangerous, for a wide selection of reasons ranging from cancer to road injuries. So yeah, rough start.

2) Sugar: Compared to hard liquors, wine already boasts a decent dose of sugar, so adding more is never a good or healthy idea. Of course, sugar is a leading cause of disease, contributing to the likes of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Moreover, a high sugar consumption can result in hangover-like symptoms, and when you already have a wicked mulled wine hangover, any extra pain and agony is the last thing you want to deal with. 

3) Orange or Lemon: Obviously, these add a tinge of citrus to this holiday wine cocktail, and they might provide a healthy splash of vitamin C, too.

4) Cinnamon: No holiday beverage would be complete without a sprinkle of cinnamon. Fortunately, as we learned in our definitive ranking of spices, cinnamon can be pretty damn healthy, boasting some incredibly potent antioxidant properties. Plus it can maintain the integrity of your boner (no, seriously).

5) Nutmeg: Another holiday beverage staple, similar to cinnamon, nutmeg is a rich source of antioxidants and adds a warm, sweet flavor to just about anything. 

6) Fennel Seed or Star Anise: I live among the crowd of people who have a strong distaste for fennel seed, star anise and black licorice — all of which taste more or less the same, at least as far as I know — and apparently I can blame my genetics for that. Sadly, this means I miss out on the extremely nutritious qualities of fennel seed and the robust antioxidant compounds found in star anise. Oh well.

7) Cloves: Both sweet and astringent, nutritionally speaking, cloves are like a combination of fennel seeds and star anise, containing loads of important nutrients and powerful antioxidants.

8) Cardamom: Another sweet and festive spice, cardamom is particularly rich in manganese, a mineral that helps with digestion and the metabolism of cholesterol and carbohydrates. The trouble with cardamom being in mulled wine is that it has powerful diuretic qualities, and since alcohol is a diuretic as well, you should really be sure to drink plenty of water in between your glugs of this spiced wine, since peeing a lot equals dehydration, and dehydration equals hangover hell.

9) Ginger: Ginger has a long history of being used to prevent nausea, which could certainly be beneficial after a few glasses of mulled wine. Healthwise, ginger is also high in a unique substance called gingerol, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

The Takeaway

We already know that alcohol is unhealthy, especially with a whole bunch of added sugar, and mulled wine is no different. That said, the assortment of spices should add at least a small — and I mean small — kick of nutrition to this festive concoction. Then again, be prepared for a particularly pungent puke after a few too many.