Food Myths Debunked

The kitchen can be a magical place. But where there’s magic, there’s mystery, and some of the answers we’ve been given, explaining these mysteries aren’t as truthful as we’ve been led to believe.

Expiration dates: really just suggestions. Your nose will tell you when something’s bad. Canned food generally doesn’t go bad, unless the integrity of the can has been compromised.

Things that have a high ratio of vinegar, oil, salt or sugar are less likely to spoil quickly. That’s why your pickles, mayonnaise and ketchup last for ever.

Using cold water to start boiling water: the only time you should start a pot of boiling water with cold water is if you’re following a recipe that starts with the thing you’re boiling in the pot as well. Otherwise, start your boiling pot with the hottest water your faucet can produce. You’re trying to get it hot anyway, so why wouldn’t you do this? A former (old school, very accomplished) chef of mine saw me doing this, and challenged my theory, because he too had been trained to start a pot with cold water. So we did an experiment: he started a pot of cold water at the same time I started a pot of hot tap water, to see which reached a boil first. My pot won by a good ten minutes. Hot water in that kitchen’s boiling pots from that point on.

Salt: the only way salt makes your food taste salty is if you add too much of it. Otherwise, it just enhances the flavor and color of your food. Salt is your friend.

Aioli: the only difference between aioli and mayonnaise is that aioli has garlic and olive oil in it. They’re both essentially just egg yoke with vegetable oil emulsified into it with a little salt and a little acidity (lemon juice or white wine vinegar, usually). Similarly, the only real difference between mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce is that hollandaise requires partial cooking of the yoke, and instead of oil, it’s made with clarified butter.

Boiling something that’s gone bad will not bring it back. Once it’s rotten, throw it out. That being said…

Mold: if you notice a spot of mold growing on a piece of cheese or loaf of bread, the non-moldy parts are still good to eat. If you want, you can just cut off the moldy parts and eat whatever’s left. This does not apply to soft or liquid things like cottage cheese or salsa, as the bacteria in the mold could seep down into the rest of it, and you have no way of knowing if or how much that has occurred.

Meat Temperatures: Pretty much every temperature you’re “supposed to cook your meat to” is too high. Medium rare beef is around 110ºF, not 125º. Pork should be cooked to around 140º, not 155º, and poultry doesn’t need to be cooked any higher than 150º. Don’t even get me started on fish.

Air Fryers: really, just small convection ovens. If you have an oven that has a “fan” or “convection” option, you have an air fryer. Appliance companies are just tricking you into buying stuff by giving it a fancy name with health appeal.

Knives: You really only need a chef’s knife and a paring knife. Everything else is either just for fun or highly specialized.

Sharp Knives are in fact much safer than dull ones.

Cutting Boards: wooden ones are just extra work (and potentially less sanitary) and glass ones should be outlawed. Your regularly used cutting board should be made of a plastic/polyurethane blend.

Touch your food: It’s okay to touch your food with your bare hands, as long as they’re reasonably clean. Obviously, keep cross-contamination issues in-mind (don’t toss a salad with the hand you just touched raw chicken with), but it really doesn’t matter if you take your finger to scoop out a taste of tuna salad in your home kitchen. If you are that worried about bare hands touching your food, you should stop eating at restaurants all together.

Fresh is a word that gets thrown around far too often. “Fresh” beef only means that it’s never been frozen — no commercially distributed beef comes from a cow that’s been dead less than two weeks. That’s not what I think of as super fresh. And most cheeses are not “fresh”, but they’re in fact aged for months before they’re packaged and sold.

Flame-grilled is a stupid redundant phrase. What else do you grill with?

Perishability: Things are not nearly as perishable as commonly believed to be. I understand that as recently as the mid-late 20th century, food manufacturing, distribution and storage were quite different from where they are currently. While there’s much to be wary of in American food production, generally speaking, the health and sanitation standards of agricultural facilities are far superior to what they were in the 1960’s. Meat, seafood and poultry each are farmed in ways that lead to less bacteria in the end product, and chilled transportation along with an expedited supply chain means they probably have several additional days of life, when compared to fifty years ago. Not to mention, with rare exception, most items meant to be kept refrigerated really can be kept at room temperature for at least six hours without any legitimate threat of spoilage. Besides, if your food is bad, it will smell bad.


I’ve written about how kitchens are hot. I’ve also written about some of the things that stand in the way of an enthusiastic and skilled home cook being able to match restaurant-style results in their home kitchen. For whatever reason, in that post I didn’t talk about the importance of heat in cooking. Most people… Continue reading Heat


A classic french toque is said to have 100 pleats, representing the 100 different ways one can cook an egg. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m not here to talk about all (or any) of those methods, as I don’t think I’ve attempted more than twenty of them. Eggs can be as enigmatic… Continue reading Eggs


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