Which liquids can I drink?
October 23, 2010 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Which liquids, apart from water, can humans drink?

Yeah, I know, you think this is a dumb-ass question. But wait - we can obviously drink water, and we can obviously drink solutions of things suspended in, or dissolved in, water. But are there any other pure liquids or non-water mixtures that are drinkable? Ethanol is a pure liquid, but it's poisonous. Mercury is a liquid, and that's even more poisonous.

I know that we need water to live, I'm not intending to find an alternative, it just occurred to me that there are lots of liquids, some of which look very tasty indeed, but that would result in me being very sick if I ingested them.

So, are there any other pure liquids (pure as in just containing molecules of [x]), apart from water, that wouldn't harm or kill us? I'm happy to also hear of liquids that aren't pure (mixtures, suspensions etc) as long as they don't contain water.
posted by The Discredited Ape to Science & Nature (42 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You could drink any cooking oil if you could stand to.
posted by glip at 3:43 PM on October 23, 2010

I think you can drink glycerol without much problem.
posted by juliapangolin at 3:48 PM on October 23, 2010

Alcohol and water are miscible, so it's hard to get alcohol without water, but I think 100% pure alcohol would count.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:50 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

100% pure alcohol would be deadly very quickly if you drank more than a very insignificant amount. It's basically a poison. It's pure ethanol.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:15 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mineral oil passes right through.
posted by theodolite at 4:17 PM on October 23, 2010

You could probably get away with drinking a glass of heavy water without getting ill. It's not something you'd want to do regularly, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:19 PM on October 23, 2010

posted by doublesix at 4:21 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Science has found no negative effects of drinking D2O (water with deuterium instead of hydrogen) until D2O makes up about 50% of your body mass. So there's that.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:26 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Argh, sorry, preview...
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:26 PM on October 23, 2010

You cannot distill 100% ethanol, so it has to be created chemically. Generally this leaves traces of some very nasty things in the final product, so while in theory you could drink absolute ethanol, don't. There are stories around the chem department of a certain prof's grad students doing shots of the 95% however, which would really be ethanol with a little bit of water in it.

Other then that... I can't think of too many liquids that don't have 'toxic' on the MSDS sheet.
posted by Canageek at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2010

You can drink mercury! Liquid mercury is unlikely to kill you, even if you drink it. It's very poorly absorbed by the GI tract. Toxicity of the element, such as it is, comes from the vapor. Organomercury compounds on the other hand are very bad news.

Many years ago my father was the registrar on a ward where a patient had attempted suicide by injecting himself with mercury. Of course, it didn't kill him, but the metal drained to the blood vessels in his feet and cut off the circulation in a nasty way. X-ray looked like he had rubber boots on.

Also, Gallium is a liquid at body temperature, and decidedly nontoxic. Mmm, silvery poop...
posted by 7-7 at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2010 [14 favorites]

Oh, and dimethyl sulfoxide is pretty nontoxic. It's also a goopy, viscous, sickly smelling liquid that penetrates skin almost instantly, so have fun with that.
posted by 7-7 at 4:33 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Actually from what I hear drinking pure H2O for long periods is quite bad for you, as it washes out ions that your body need without replacing them.
posted by Canageek at 4:34 PM on October 23, 2010

You hear wrong.
posted by 7-7 at 4:42 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

7-7: "You can drink mercury! Liquid mercury is unlikely to kill you, even if you drink it. "



May cause burning of the mouth and pharynx, abdominal pain, vomiting, corrosive ulceration, bloody diarrhea. May be followed by a rapid and weak pulse, shallow breathing, paleness, exhaustion, tremors and collapse. Delayed death may occur from renal failure. Gastrointenstinal uptake of mercury is less than 5% but its ability to penetrate tissues presents some hazard. Initial symptoms may be thirst, possible abdominal discomfort.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:47 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If ingesting mercury is not poisonous, what accounts for mercury poisoning of people eating mercury laden fish? Sorry for the derail.

Even molasses is liquid because it contains water. I pretty much don't think there is anything else really drinkable.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2010

7-7: "You hear wrong."

You read bad. Scroll down to the bit that asks "Is it possible to drink too much water?"

IIRC, the LD50 of water is something like 14 litres.
posted by Pinback at 4:52 PM on October 23, 2010

Quicksilver (liquid metallic mercury) is poorly absorbed by ingestion and skin contact. It is hazardous due to its potential to release mercury vapour. Animal data indicate that less than 0.01% of ingested mercury is absorbed through the intact gastrointestinal tract; though it may not be true for individuals suffering from ileus. Cases of systemic toxicity from accidental swallowing are rare, and attempted suicide via intravenous injection does not appear to result in systemic toxicity.[12]

Reference: "The Toxicology of Mercury and Its Chemical Compounds", Crit Rev Tox, 2006
posted by 7-7 at 4:55 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I thought that molasses has water in it.
posted by dfriedman at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2010

SLC Mom, the problem with the mercury is that it's been methylated in the environment and is therefore methylmercury, which is far more toxic than inorganic mercury (ingested).

And in answer to the question, all of the things I can think of that creatures get fluids from are water-based from other animals like milk (or meat "juices") or plant-derived watery fluids like molasses. So I've got nothing!
posted by ldthomps at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2010

Pinback: The claim being made was that pure water "drains ions out of your body". Nonsense. Drinking a lot of water can be bad for you, but your body doesn't care whether it's tap water or 100% pure. You don't get nutrients that way.

(Although it's true that over several years, fluoridated water is better for kid's teeth.)

Oh, and one more liquid you can drink: Perfluorocarbons (scroll down)
posted by 7-7 at 5:18 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some things that melt at high temperatures into liquids that you could drink. Like sugar, for example. But I don't know if that counts.
posted by lollusc at 5:19 PM on October 23, 2010

posted by amyms at 5:34 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some things that melt at high temperatures into liquids that you could drink. Like sugar, for example. But I don't know if that counts.

Given the melting point is 146 degrees, no, I don't think it would, given the likelihood of dying of 3rd degree burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach.


Milk's a bunch of proteins and fats suspended in water.
posted by rodgerd at 5:39 PM on October 23, 2010

The Mongols used to drink clarified butter on special occasions.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:49 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Interesting answers so far, thanks folks.

Molasses is about 20% water, and without that water I'm fairly sure it would be an undrinkable gloopy tar, so let's rule that one out. Same with honey. Milk is around 85% water, amyms.

Regarding mercury - the key question for me is: Could I drink a pint of it? I can imagine drinking a pint of vegetable oil, but I have a real hard time imagining drinking a pint of fucking mercury and being able to wipe my lips on the back of my hand with a satisfied flourish afterwards. Are you telling me that not only would I survive it but I wouldn't even suffer burns?

Question for heavy water aficionados - would I be able to tell I was chugging a sweet, cool glass of D2O instead of H20? Would it taste or feel any different whatsoever from ordinary water? Would it make my tongue tingle? Or is it thoroughly indistinguishable?

I'm glad perfuorocarbons exist, looks like I'd enjoy a glass of that, and I'm loving the idea of drinking a tankard of refreshing dimethyl sulfoxide, and instead of it just sliding down my throat, it filters slowly down through my whole upper body, like water running through a big sponge.
posted by The Discredited Ape at 6:16 PM on October 23, 2010

Nope, liquid mercury wouldn't cause burns or other direct injury. It's fairly inert by itself, and very little of it is absorbed through your gastrointestinal tract. This article (don't know if you'll be able to access it) says that in the 1700s, doctors used to prescribe a tablespoon or so of mercury as a laxative. You definitely don't want to get any of it into your lungs, though, or inhale the fumes for a long period of time.

Heavy water is about 10% denser and 25% more viscous than regular water, so you could probably tell the difference if you were to drink it. It shouldn't taste any different, though, since chemically it's almost identical to H2O.
posted by teraflop at 6:43 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

During a moment of boredom in a lab one time, I tasted a cc of heavy water. It seemed slightly metallic and bitter, which I guess makes sense, since the pH* is a little higher than regular water. Extremely pure regular water also tastes bitter, since tap water has a pH under 7 from dissolved carbon dioxide. 18O labeled water on the other hand tastes just the same (and is one hell of a lot more expensive :) ).

*pD, really
posted by 7-7 at 6:49 PM on October 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

Polyethylene glycol is fairly nontoxic. Low molecular weight formulations are liquid. Granted it's a functional laxative, but aside from severe diarrhea you should survive relatively unscathed.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:57 PM on October 23, 2010

I'm loving the idea of drinking a tankard of refreshing dimethyl sulfoxide

No need to drink it. Just put some on your skin and you'll taste it soon enough. It has a garlicy/oystery flavor that is not particularly pleasant. Note however that by applying it to your skin, you've made it effectively permeable to all other manner of chemicals in your environment, which is generally not a good thing.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:04 PM on October 23, 2010

Yes, you can drink 95% ethanol and come away from it basically intact. It's pretty much always a bad idea, but it can be done.
posted by NortonDC at 8:31 PM on October 23, 2010

>I can imagine drinking a pint of vegetable oil

I can attest to what happens if you do this. Two friends of mine did this on a dare -- one forced himself to vomit it about 30 min later, one didn't. The one who kept it down says: "Afterward it felt a little oogy but not really bad. I ate a meal after, and felt generally ok until 8-10 hours later, started feeling just terrible, tried to sleep, woke up maybe 14 hrs after drinking it, threw up -- just the oil came up, none of the food I had eaten. Once I threw it up I was fine."
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:08 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

"You cannot distill 100% ethanol, so it has to be created chemically."
Basically all ethanol is created "organically" by microorganisms.
And yes, you can distill ethanol to 100%. But around 96% it gets tricky and needs some additional technology.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:50 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Regarding mercury"

Wouldn't it dissolve your gold fillings?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:55 PM on October 23, 2010

DMSO! I think about it now and then; does anyone else remember some sort of fad in maybe the late ’80s or early ’90s (?) where people would get together to experiment with it, sort of the way they do now with "miracle fruit"? I just remember that the gimmick was that it would let you "taste things through your skin." I've always wondered if I was remembering that correctly. After reading that Wikipedia article, I'm surprised anyone was able to get any for that sort of recreational use.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:15 PM on October 23, 2010

Wikipedia has a list of edible fats and oils, containing:

-Clarified Butter
-Vegetable shortening
-Fish Oil
-Tallow (I remember reading that Roman soldiers would eat their tallow candles in emergencies)
-Bacon fat
-and many more! (As far as I can tell, the melting point for most of them is within a tolerable range.)

Peanut butter, and, presumably, other nut butters, are very low in water content. According to Wikipedia, the USDA says that regular peanut butter is less than 2% water by weight.

I also remember reading that petroleum jelly is sometimes ingested as a health supplement. I doubt it was for any nutritional benefit, though.
posted by clorox at 12:17 AM on October 24, 2010

To expand on teraflop's point - a big drink of mercury was used as a cure for intractable constipation right through the 19th century. This is from Pharmacology, Theraputics and Materia Medica: T Lauder Brunton, Macmillan and co, London, 1887:

"Metallic mercury in mass has no action whatever on the body. As much as a pound has been taken without producing any physiological effect. Such a dose as this is sometimes given in cases of intestinal obstruction in the hope that the weight of the mercury may carry the obstruction before it."

I really wouldn't advise doing this, and I'm not sure of the volume of a pound of mercury, but it's certainly a good big drink of the stuff.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:20 AM on October 24, 2010

Mercury isn't especially cheap. I hope the patients realised that the stuff they were drinking had been recycled.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:03 AM on October 24, 2010

7-7, isn't Gallium only liquid at room temperature if you live in the tropics or during the summer? The neatest bit is that the solid form will melt in your hand like silvery chocolate, although "some sources suggest ... it may cause dermatitis[citation needed]".
posted by autopilot at 8:19 AM on October 24, 2010

Propylene glycerol (a double alcohol) is very non-toxic, even in large amounts. It's used as a solvent in a lot of foods and common household products.
posted by WhitenoisE at 9:59 AM on October 24, 2010

I'm not sure of the volume of a pound of mercury, but it's certainly a good big drink of the stuff.
It's about 33 milliliters or 1.1 fluid ounces. That's two heaping tablespoons or one small shot glass filled to the brim.

posted by clorox at 10:40 PM on October 25, 2010

@yoyo_nyc No you can't, at ~96% they form a mixture that has a lower boiling point than either of the parts, you have to wash it chemically to get the water out. We went over the procedure in spectroscopy, though I can't remember what it is right now. Magnesium sulphate comes to mind, though my gut tells me that is wrong.
posted by Canageek at 7:48 AM on November 2, 2010

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