Fusel alcohols or fuselol, also sometimes called fusel oils in Europe, are mixtures of several higher alcohols (those with more than 2 carbons, chiefly amyl alcohol) produced as a by-product of alcoholic fermentation. The word Fusel [ˈfuːzl̩] is German for "bad liquor".
Whether fusel alcohol contributes to hangover symptoms is a matter of scientific debate. A Japanese study in 2003 concluded: "the fusel oil in whisky had no effect on the ethanol-induced emetic response" in the Asian house shrew. Additionally, consumption of fusel oils with ethanol suppressed subjects' subsequent taste aversion to alcohol, which suggested subjects' hangover symptoms were lessened, according to the journal.
Excessive concentrations of some alcohols other than ethanol may cause off-flavors, sometimes described as "spicy", "hot", or "solvent-like". Some beverages, such as rum, whisky (especially bourbon), incompletely rectified vodka (e.g. Siwucha) and traditional ales and ciders, are expected to have relatively high concentrations of non-hazardous alcohols as part of their flavor profile. However, in other beverages, such as Korn, vodka and lagers, the presence of alcohols other than ethanol is considered a fault.
The compounds involved are chiefly:
- isoamyl alcohol (isopentanol)
- 2-methyl-1-butanol - sometimes called "active" amyl alcohol
- isobutyl alcohol - one of the least toxic of the butanols.
Other higher alcohols that can be produced during fermentation include:
- isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol), oxidized to form acetone by alcohol dehydrogenase in the liver, leading to ketosis when ingested in large quantities.
- 1-pentanol (n-amyl alcohol)
During distillation, fusel alcohols are concentrated in the feints or "tails" at the end of the distillation run. They have an oily consistency, which is noticeable to the distiller, hence the other name "fusel oil". If desired, these heavier alcohols can be almost completely separated in a reflux still. On the other hand, freeze distillation does not remove fusel alcohols.
- at higher temperatures
- at lower pH
- when yeast activity is limited by low nitrogen content
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- Hazelwood, Lucie A.; Daran, Jean-Marc; van Maris, Antonius J. A.; Pronk, Jack T.; Dickinson, J. Richard (2008). "The Ehrlich pathway for fusel alcohol production: a century of research on Saccharomyces cerevisiae metabolism". Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 74 (8): 2259–66. doi:10.1128/AEM.02625-07. PMC 2293160. PMID 18281432.
- Hori H, Fujii W, Hatanaka Y, Suwa Y (27 August 2003). "Effects of fusel oil on animal hangover models". Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 27 (8 Suppl): 37S–41S. doi:10.1097/01.ALC.0000078828.49740.48. PMID 12960505.
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