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Gogl-mogl: old world home remedy that may comfort — even if it doesn't cure

"I always compare dishes from our childhood as like a warm blanket," says Polish food writer Michał Korkosz of gogl-mogl. "They remind you when you were the happiest in your life."
Sophia Pappas for NPR
"I always compare dishes from our childhood as like a warm blanket," says Polish food writer Michał Korkosz of gogl-mogl. "They remind you when you were the happiest in your life."

As long as there have been scratchy throats, runny noses, and hacking coughs, there have been home remedies different cultures have turned to hoping to feel better. Chicken soup, ginger tea, mustard plasters. And for those with family roots in Eastern Europe – a drink known as gogl-mogl.

Also called goggle-moggle, kogel mogel, guggle muggle, גאָגל-מאָגל, the drink is basically like a hot eggnog, or sabayon, thinned out to be drinkable. It's widely been used as a remedy in Ashkenazi Jewish communities. While the drink exists in non-Jewish communities as well, it's usually seen as more of a dessert.

Eve Jochnowitz, a Yiddish teacher and Jewish culinary ethnographer, jokes that gogl-mogl "seems to be one of those things like chicken soup – it's always been there."

Jochnowitz says the most common version begins with sugar or honey mixed with egg yolks, and then beaten into hot milk.

There are slightly different versions – sometimes a shot of brandy or slivovitz was thrown in; sometimes chocolate or butter was added. Jochnowitz says gogl-mogl was found across Europe.

"Over the entire Yiddish-speaking world – from Czechoslovakia in the West, as far as the borders of the Russian Empire in the East, I would say."

And with immigration, gogl-mogl made its way into America. The late New York City Mayor Ed Koch gave outhis version at a press conference in 1987. A unique version, it should be noted, that forgoes the eggs and milk, and instead mixes the honey and booze into some fresh-squeezed citrus (he notes that as an elected official he wouldn't drink alcohol on the job, but would have gogl-mogl to recuperate overnight).

In a recent interview on WHYY's Fresh Air, singer Barbra Streisand recalled her mother recommending it after her first real gig.

"The first thing she said, I remember, was 'Your voice needs eggs. You have to use a gogl-mogl, cause your voice needs to be stronger.'"

In an oral history with the Yiddish Book Center, Al Rosen, a WWII veteran, remembers how his father would also prepare gogl-mogl to coat his throat before his role chanting Kol Nidre, the melodic service ushering in the high holiday of Yom Kippur.

Now some people have sweet memories of parents and grandparents bringing a gogl-mogl to their sickbed. But a lot of people dreaded it.

"What the people who have negative recollections seem to have in common is that the egg yolk was not beaten with the sugar," observes Eve Jochnowitz. "You would put in a whole egg yolk, and the idea was that you would swallow the whole egg yolk while you drank the hot beverage. And that doesn't sound quite as fabulous."

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, curator at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, remembers being given gogl-mogl for chest colds during the harsh winters of her Toronto childhood. And it was not a pleasant experience.

"Oh no, hell no," she laughs. "No, no."

But she does acknowledge it had a soothing warmth. And she wonders about its future.

"I'm curious to what extent gogl-mogl persists among an American-born generation – especially people who were born, let's say, 20, 30 years ago. And to what extent it's a legacy of mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers from Europe."

Culinary ethnographer Eve Jochnowitz says the steepest decline probably came in the 1970s, as the immigrant generation aged. Access to over-the-counter medicines, and a lower tolerance for giving raw eggs and alcohol to children also may have played a role.

According to Michał Korkosz, a food writer in Poland, you can still find the dessert version of gogl-mogl in Eastern Europe. Though even then, it's seen as a relic of the past, hearkening back to Communist times when you couldn't find any sweets in the stores.

The Polish version is more like an egg foam – a cloud of just whipped eggs and sugar, like the beginning of a sponge cake.

"It's so fluffy, it's so creamy," waxes Korkosz. "It has its richness."

But Korkosz notes that sometimes, when someone was sick, his grandmother would pour in a little hot milk – turning this dessert into a remedy.

"Sweet treat, but somehow milk makes it a medicine, right?" he laughs.

Which raises the question – does gogl-mogl actually do anything, medicinally? Dr. Diane Pappas is a pediatrician at the University of Virginia who researches cough management in kids. She says... meh?

"We don't have any really good evidence that honey does a whole lot for cough," explains Pappas. "There's a few studies that say it might help a little bit. They're not great quality, but it's really all we have."

But it might not be anything special about the honey.

"There is some suggestion that just the fact that you have some kind of viscous liquid kind of coating and calming and soothing your throat and increasing saliva and whatever, that those things can also help comfort someone with a cough or cold symptoms."

Pappas says if you want a gogl-mogl, go for it. Calories and warm fluids always help. And as long as the egg is fully cooked, and you're not giving honey to infants, it's fine.

"I don't know that there are downsides – unless you put the alcohol in it," says Pappas. "Don't know that there's a huge upside either."

Pappas says while she can't ethically prescribe placebos – that effect can play a role in all sorts of things people take hoping to feel better.

And Polish food writer Michał Korkosz says there's also the comfort of tradition.

"I always compare dishes from our childhood as like a warm blanket. They're so cozy, and so delicious, and they remind you when you were the happiest in your life."

Which may be the perfect thing, when you're feeling crummy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deena Prichep