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Vernon News

THOMPSON: Debunking well-known culinary myths

February 12, 2024 - 12:00 PM



As a small child, my mom cautioned me one day not to eat the raw cookie dough she was busily rolling out to bake. Honestly, I don’t recall whether she simply wanted to make sure there were enough baked cookies for the entire family, or it was something unsafe to eat.

Turns out, it was unsafe and there were two reasons…I risked getting salmonella from raw eggs…and uncooked flour could have given me food poisoning, as well, potentially harbouring both E. coli and Salmonella. Even so, a lot of kids today eat both raw cookie dough and cake batter…with parents believing the potential dangers are myth rather than fact.

That got me thinking about other culinary myths…things we do or don’t do…when it comes to cooking and eating. Fortunately, most of the upcoming myths don’t pose health risks…they’re simply unnecessary.

For instance, I overheard someone in Whole Foods recently tell someone they shouldn’t wash mushrooms before eating or cooking them. Nonsense. It is a long-standing myth that washing mushrooms somehow ruins their texture or flavour.

Mushrooms are mostly water, so a little more isn’t an issue. Cooking removes moisture anyway. Those are little flecks of dirt or manure you see on mushrooms - packaged or loose - and pasteurized or not…you should not fear rinsing them.

Here are a couple myths about tomatoes; one, raw is better than cooked, and two, use the skins and pulp rather than the gelatinous inside holding the seeds. Actually, cooked tomatoes are even healthier than the raw fruit…heat increases the levels of a healthy antioxidant…lycopene. Don’t like the appearance of tomato seeds in your sauce…strain them.

I’ve known folks who had baking soda and baking powder in their pantries that were years old. The myth: some things you cook with don’t expire. Wrong. Replace both old baking soda and powder every six to 12 months. By the way, dried herbs are the same…they lose their potency…translation…they lose their ability to impart flavour.

Making pancakes Sunday morning? Don’t flip them we’re told until you see bubbles on the surface. That, too, is a myth that can leave you with a stack of burned or overcooked flapjacks. Look for light browning around the edge, lift to view and if tan, flip them.

Everyone knows you add salt to pasta water. It enhances the flavour…but it doesn’t make the water boil or pasta cook faster…both things you often hear. You’d have to add so much salt to raise the boiling point of the water that any pasta you cooked would be inedible.

How about searing meat…like a great ribeye steak…to seal in the meat’s juices. No…a widely held myth. Searing meat - especially with a good dose of salt - definitely enhances flavour…but it doesn’t seal in meat juices…it actually reduces them.

A related point…marinating meat makes it more tender, right? Highly unlikely. While true that some acidic marinades might loosen the bonds in protein on the meat's surface, if the quantity of acid in your marinade is too high, it can actually make it tougher. Marinades rarely penetrate meat much below the surface…even after 24 hours.

Salt is salt, right? Myth. Regular table salt is made up of finer grains than, say, Mediterranean sea salt or kosher salt, so a pinch will add more saltiness to your food than varieties with larger crystals.

Cringe when you see someone using wood cutting boards because they trap bacteria and you can never fully disinfect them? Another myth. You can clean wooden cutting boards of surface bacteria with soap and hot water. Any ingrained bacteria does not proliferate and dies quickly.

Salt rubbed into the wood grain and rinsed is one of the best ways to clean a wood cutting board. Some butcher shops have used wooden chopping blocks for decades.

Sharp knives in the kitchen are just too dangerous. Another myth, of course, because you don’t force sharp knives and so you’re less likely to slip. And not that you want a cut…but a cut finger from a sharp knife is better than from a dull knife. Remember, surgeons use sharp - not dull - scalpels.

Milk, cream or half-and-half added to scrabbled eggs make them lighter and fluffier. Nonsense…another myth. Dairy actually thins your eggs and makes them evaporate faster when cooking…leading to a rubbery, overdone breakfast.

We all know bread dries out and becomes stale and stiff as a board if left on the kitchen counter. True…but still sort of a myth…because the starch in the bread has crystallized.

Now, go bake some cookies or a cake…and don’t eat the raw dough or batter!

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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