Anyone who enjoys eating will have benefitted from some form of common cooking wisdom. Usually passed down by generations of well-meaning home cooks, many of these handy tips have become so widely accepted that we don’t think twice before confidently parroting them back to anyone who’ll listen. Perhaps we should have dug a little deeper.
It turns out that much of what we take for granted in the kitchen has next to no basis in fact. Some of these cooking myths may come as a shock, but all have been thoroughly debunked by fun-killing scientists determined to shatter everyone’s illusion. Here are six of the most astonishing foodie fallacies.
1. Marinating makes any difference
Cooking cultures across the world all have traditional recipes that apparently rely on a marinade. Whether it’s piri-piri from Portugal or pork butt from Boston, chefs have been leaving meat in juice for generations. It turns out that this is a total waste of time. Unless you’re using something acidic or saline, whatever you coat the meat in will not penetrate more than a few millimetres, meaning that in many cases you’re far better off cooking and then coating in sauce afterwards.
2. Sear meat to make it juicy
It would seem to make sense that creating an artificial crust on the outside of a joint would help to prevent any errant moisture from escaping. Alas not. Though searing is an effective way to impart extra flavour into your meat, it does little if anything to help the cut retain juice. The key to making meat succulent is to allow it to rest before cutting into it.
3. You need to let food cool before you refrigerate
With so many tales of accidental food poisoning at the hands of last night’s lukewarm dinner, it’s unsurprising that this myth continues to have legs. It turns out that, though putting hot food straight into the fridge does indeed create condensation which can lead to bacterial growth, this risk is far outweighed by what happens if you just leave it on the side and wait. The US Department of Agriculture claims that bacterial growth in warm, unrefrigerated food can double every half an hour if it is left unattended.
4. Basting a bird will make it moist
No Christmas is complete without hovering by a slowly browning carcass, giant pipette in hand, lovingly squirting turkey juice everywhere. Unfortunately, according to the team at America’s Test Kitchen, this is another ritual that makes next to no difference to the end result. After testing six different turkeys and chickens, the ATK concluded that basting had no impact at all on the moistness of the meat, and actually just meant it all took longer to cook. Where it could make a difference, however, is in giving the bird a darker, crispy skin.
5. You can whisk however you like
Presumably with a little time left after myth-busting basting, the American Test Kitchen team also uncovered that there’s a whole lot more to whisking than brute force. After studying a variety of common methods, the scientists could clearly see that the undisputed champion was side to side whisking. Beating was shown to be most beneficial when working with egg whites and could also hold its own in a kitchen. Circular stirring, on the other hand, turns out to be completely useless.
6. Salt will make water boil faster
Since we first mastered the art of cooking pasta, cooks across the world have happily hurling salt into their pans to save precious seconds before they can start eating. In reality, this is yet another common cooking misconception. Not only will adding salt not boil your water quicker, but it can actually have the opposite effect, thanks to a phenomenon known as boiling point elevation. Though adding salt can bring other benefits, such as flavour, it definitely won’t help to speed things up.
Given how deeply we hold most of these cooking beliefs, it can be difficult to accept that we’ve all been wasting time. However much we might wish for own pearls of foodie wisdom to be worth anything, it’s difficult to argue with scientists. Not that that’s going to stop me basting my chicken any time soon.