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Debunking the Myths


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - July 12, 2006
Mark R. Vogel - - Archive of other articles by Mark Vogel

As intelligent as man is, (or thinks he is), mistaken notions about reality will always be a part of the human condition.  Granted, as mankind continues to progress and learn more about the true nature of the world, certain absurdities are dispelled.  We no longer believe the earth is flat or that it lies at the center of the universe.  We ceased burning people to death who were supposed to be witches.  And at least the sane members of society no longer believe in evil spirits, werewolves, vampires and the like.  Nevertheless society is beset with innumerable myths, albeit of a less outlandish nature.  The culinary realm is no exception to human fallaciousness.  Let’s try to put some of those myths to rest.

Myth #1: Most of the heat in hot peppers lies in the seeds.

Nope.  Most of the capsaicin, (the compound that gives chile peppers their kick), rests in the white flesh, referred to as the veins or ribs.  The seeds have little to no capsaicin but taste hot because when you cut a pepper open, capsaicin is released and dispersed onto the seeds. 

Myth #2: Most of the alcohol used in cooking is burned off when it is brought to a boil.

Uh-uh.  You would actually need to simmer your alcohol-imbibed concoction for a number of hours to approach complete vaporization of the alcohol.  For example, ten minutes of simmering will only eliminate about half the alcohol. 

Myth #3: Searing meat helps seal in its juices.

Negative.  Searing meat does nothing to the moisture level of the meat.  The point of searing meat is to caramelize the exterior which intensifies the flavor through a series of complex chemical reactions.

Myth #4: Marinades tenderize meat.

Ok, there’s a kernel of truth here but most of this concept is bogus.  A marinade will only have a tenderizing effect if it contains an acid, (which most do), but even then, the effect is limited. 


The acid in a marinade, be it wine, vinegar, citrus juices, etc., will break down the surface proteins on a piece of meat to some degree.  However, even with extended resting time, the penetration of the marinade is not that deep.  In fact, marinades only infiltrate three sixteenths of an inch beneath the food’s surface!  Nevertheless, because there is some degree of tenderizing marinades are preferred for tougher cuts of beef.

Myth #5: Salting beans at the beginning of cooking makes them tough.

Where do people get this stuff?  Totally false.  In fact, you should salt your beans, and most other foods at the beginning of the cooking process.  Food that is seasoned prior to or at the beginning of cooking will taste better than salting it at the end.  By salting early, it will infiltrate the food and commingle with the other flavoring elements more thoroughly.  Similar to this myth is the next one…….

Myth #6: You shouldn’t salt meat before cooking it.

This is so far from the truth that you’d need the Hubble telescope to find reality.  Taste tests by reputable culinary organizations have demonstrated that meat salted prior to cooking tastes better than meat salted afterward.  Every chef in the world seasons his proteins prior to cooking.  And forget that collateral myth that you will leach the moisture out of the meat.  Yeah, if you dump the whole jar of salt on it and let it rest overnight.  But there’s no way any appreciable moisture loss will occur with a normal amount of salt sprinkled on just before cooking.  Oh and by the way, recent research is also dispelling the myth that salt causes high blood pressure. 

Myth #7: Don’t wash mushrooms or they’ll become saturated with water.

Once again, a teeny-weeny kernel of truth surrounded by a ball of balderdash.  If you place your mushrooms in a bowl of water for hours on end, yeah, you’ll produce little sponges.  But if you merely rinse them off and immediately dry them on paper towels, the water they absorb is minimal.

Myth #8: Putting the avocado pit in the guacamole will prevent it from browning.

Fat chance.  Maybe the guacamole adjacent to the pit won’t brown because it isn’t in contact with the air, but the rest still will.

Myth #9: Adding salt and/or oil to pasta water prevents it from sticking.

Yeah, and people are abducted by aliens.  Salt is added to pasta water to season the pasta.  It plays no role in sticking.  And oil doesn’t do anything.  Remember, oil and water don’t mix.  All the oil floats to the top so don’t bother.  What prevents sticking is placing the pasta in a large amount of water that is already boiling, not overcrowding the pot, and stirring, particularly at the early stages of cooking. 

Myth #10: Pasta should be rinsed after cooking to remove the starch.

Even if this was true why would you even want to remove the starch?  Because you probably subscribe to the low-carb diet myth as well.  You will eliminate some of the surface carbohydrates by rinsing the pasta but this is negligible compared to the total amount of carbohydrates left in the pasta itself.  Moreover, removing the surface starch decreases the pasta’s ability to adhere to the sauce.  Less sauce-to-pasta cohesion means less taste. 

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