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The Surprising History of Making Alcohol a Powdered Substance

on 08/05/14 at 11:23 am

Booze News
indexA startup is seeking approval to sell alcohol in tiny inconspicuous packets. But the science is decades old.

Palcohol—a new form of powderized alcohol—has gotten plenty of buzz (albeit perhaps not the kind it intended) from both fans and a number of alarmed scientists, politicians and parents after its label was temporarily approved by  the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The product won’t land on our shelves just yet (the product’s application has been withdrawn, temporarily, because of an “error,” manufacturer Lipsmark says). But either way, it turns out that despite the buzz, powderized alcohol isn’t exactly new, though for what it’s worth, Palcohol’s product has made it farther than any other we can trace.

The technology dates as far back as the 1970s, when Japan’s Sato Foods Industries began selling encapsulated alcohol as an additive in food processing.

Lipsmark won’t discuss how its product is made, but the process typically involves suspending ethanol molecules inside a host sugar molecule—different than the freeze dried beer products, which are non-alcoholic, that have appeared on the market.

The motive, in Sato Food Industries’ case, was to use the powder on certain food products like fish and meat in order to mask the foods’ odor and also help retain their natural juices, keeping them tender, according to Sato Foods’ website.

But, of course, other companies went after the technique for other side effects of alcohol—namely, getting a buzz. Whether mixed up in a drink or simply eaten, the powder has the same effect in humans as consuming alcohol through a glass of beer or wine.

Efforts to bring the intoxicating dust to the U.S. market began as far back as 1974, when General Foods Corporation filed a patent for an “alcohol-containing dextrin powder.” The inventors, like their Japanese counterparts, said their goal was in part to create a powder used to enhance food, namely, its flavor. But they also wanted to lay their claim on “a high ethanol-containing powder which can be used as a base for alcoholic beverages.”