Can You Drink Liquid Nitrogen?

Liquid Nitrogen Is Cool, But Is It Food?

Liquid nitrogen produces water fog in food. It vaporizes into harmless nitrogen gas.
Daniel Cattermole / EyeEm / Getty Images

Liquid nitrogen is used to make liquid nitrogen ice cream and for many other cool science projects, and it's non-toxic. But is it safe to drink? Here's the answer.

What Is Nitrogen?

Nitrogen is a very common element that occurs naturally in the air, soil, and ocean. It is a nutrient that helps plants and animals to grow. Liquid nitrogen is extremely cold and is used to preserve foods and medicines, and to produce chemical reactions for industry and science. It's also commonly used in science museums to create exciting visual demonstrations of the qualities of extreme cold. For example, demonstrators dip marshmallows into liquid nitrogen, freeze them instantly, and then smash them into shards with a hammer. 

Is Liquid Nitrogen Safe to Drink?

Although liquid nitrogen is used to make ice cream and other edible science foods, the nitrogen evaporates into a gas before these items are consumed, so it isn't actually present by the time they are ingested. This is good because drinking liquid nitrogen can lead to serious injury or may be fatal. That's because the temperature of liquid nitrogen at normal pressures is between 63 K and 77.2 K (-346 F and -320.44 F). So, although the nitrogen is non-toxic, this is cold enough to cause instantaneous frostbite.

While pin-point-sized droplets of liquid nitrogen on your skin won't pose much of a hazard, the extensive contact you would get from drinking the liquid would cause severe damage to your mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Also, as the liquid nitrogen vaporizes, it becomes nitrogen gas which exerts pressure, leaking into tissues or possibly leading to perforations. Even if the liquid nitrogen vaporizes, the remaining liquid may be dangerously cold (-196 degrees Celsius, which translates to -321 degrees Fahrenheit).

Bottom line: no, liquid nitrogen is never safe to drink. In fact, it's a very good idea to keep liquid nitrogen away from children.

Liquid Nitrogen Cocktails

Some trendy bars chill cocktail glasses with liquid nitrogen so that they will appear to smoke when liquid is added to the glass. Alternatively, a small amount of liquid nitrogen added to a drink will cause it to emit a spooky wisp of vapor. In theory, this can be done safely by someone trained in the proper use of liquid nitrogen. It should not be attempted by anyone other than a professional. Keep in mind, the liquid nitrogen vaporizes into gas before the drink is imbibed, so no one drinks the nitrogen. If nitrogen does get in a drink, it is visible floating on top of the liquid surface.

Nitrogen is not usually a regulated substance, and it has been known to be hazardous. At least a few people have wound up in the hospital as a result of drinking nitrogen-chilled cocktails, and at least one was found to have a perforated stomach.