A woman in Miami, Florida was hospitalized for five days after drinking a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen at a fundraising party. After one sip, guests saw smoke coming out of Barbara Kaufman’s nose and mouth; Kaufman was later treated for “internal burning and tears to her abdomen,” Eater reports.
This isn’t the first time the use of liquid nitrogen—which creates a smoke effect when added to a drink—has sent someone to the E.R. In 2012, a British teen had her stomach surgically removed after ingesting a liquid nitrogen cocktail on her 18th birthday.
So what exactly is liquid nitrogen? As the name would suggest, it’s the liquid form of nitrogen gas, which has an extremely low temperature of -321 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s so cold that it freezes living tissue on contact, and is used by doctors to remove warts and preserve specimens. It’s also used by chefs to make ice cream, frozen foams, and for dramatic presentation: as it warms up, the liquid evaporates into gas, creating a fog effect.
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The aesthetic flair is what many bartenders are after when they serve a drink with vapor rising out of it. As soon as the liquid nitrogen has “boiled” away, the remaining libation should be completely safe to consume. The problems occur when people drink it too soon, which unsurprisingly happens sometimes in an environment where people are partying and drinking alcohol.
But there’s one other danger: Add too much nitrogen to the air and it will displace the oxygen, making it hard to breathe. Which is exactly what happened at a Jägermeister-sponsored pool party in Mexico last year when liquid nitrogen was poured into a swimming pool and nine people passed out.
So next time you’re at a fancy cocktail party, trust your caveman instincts when they tell you smoke = danger.