Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

About Kitchen Myths

We’ve all heard of urban legends, those plausible sounding but false stories that circulate so widely on email and social media, such as the old lady who microwaved her cat or the Nieman-Marcus $250 cookie recipe. There are several web sites, such as Snopes, devoted to researching and exposing these fake stories (and verifying those that are true). The same sort of thing happens in the world of food and cooking, and this blog is my answer.

So, who am I and why do I write this blog? I am a retired medical school professor with a long-standing interest in food and cooking. I keep my identity private to avoid abuse from people who don’t like having their beliefs challenged. You would be amazed at how steamed up some people get when I challenge their “knowledge!” I have been accused of being a shill for the high fructose corn syrup people and being in the pay of the MSG manufacturers, that’s how desperate some people are to hang on to their false beliefs. In actuality, I have no connection whatever with the food industry and this blog does not bring in a cent.

How do I know these are myths? Why should you believe me over someone who says that something I call a myth is in fact true—particularly if that person is your Mom or or a famous TV chef? I can’t answer that question for you, but I can say that all of the information on this page has been carefully researched. I do not claim that something is true or false just because I heard it somewhere or because it seems to “make sense.” I require that something be backed by a credible source (the key word here is “credible”) and/or that it be in accord with accepted scientific knowledge (I am a scientist by training). In most cases this is also backed up by my personal experience (although my personal experience is not, by itself, enough). I certainly do not claim to be infallible but I do try hard to present accurate, verifiable information. Believe me, I have had several of my own long-held cooking “facts” demolished by this research!

Why don’t I cite sources with my myths? There are several reasons. First, I wanted the blog to be casual and readable and not come across like an academic paper. Second, I have found that many people will hang onto their old beliefs no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented—this is true in all of life, not just cooking, as the vaccination, global warming, political, and evolution  “debates” illustrate. Evidence, for these people, is a way of supporting what they already believe and not a basis for evaluating and possibly changing their beliefs. Finally, the Web is full of “citations” that seem to support pretty much any hare-brained idea (canola oil causes brain cancer, President Obama is not a citizen, hangar 51, etc.), and all too many people can’t distinguish a valid source from an invalid ones. So, no citations—but here are some of my major sources:

  • Harold McGee’s books On Food and Cooking and Keys to Good Cooking.
  • Alton Brown’s shows and books – he’s the only TV chef I know of who takes a science-based approach to cooking.
  • Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.
  • Barham’s The Science of Cooking.
  • Modernist Cooking, a 5-volume set of cookery books, full of fascinating information, recipes, and photos.
  • Wolke’s What Einstein Told His Cook.
  • Kitchen Mysteries by This.
  • The Cook’s Illustrated magazines and cookbooks.
  • The Food and Drug Administration.
  • The Department of Agriculture.

I welcome comments regardless of whether you agree with me. Profanity, personal attacks, and name-calling are not acceptable. Spam (comments unrelated to the topic whose purpose is to get your irrelevant URL on the blog) is also unacceptable and will be reported to WordPress as spam. I must approve all comments, and it may take a week or longer for me to get around to it, so don’t be impatient. Please don’t expect a response from me.

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22 responses to “About Kitchen Myths

  1. Tana Oyler June 23, 2011 at 9:24 am

    . . . about putting bananas in the ref. . …. is there any truth to this “gas” they put off??

    PS. thanks for the web page, I really enjoyed reading it.

    • kitchenmyths June 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      Yes, ripening bananas give off very small amounts of a gas called ethylene. It is part of the ripening process and is perfectly natural and safe. You can put it to use to help ripen other fruits and vegetables, seal a ripe banana in a paper bag with a couple of, say, tomatoes and the ethylene will speed up ripening of the tomatoes.

  2. Gary Chapman August 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    My mom has this “old wives tale” (thats what I call it) about jars with food in them. She says if you turn the jar upside down when putting it way (AFTER its been opened) either in the refrig or on the shelf, it will last longer because turning it keeps the air out. I tell her the problem is the air that gets in when you’ve opened it, not what might “seep in” during storage. Has anyone heard of this myth before?

    • Asa Bender November 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      will leaving something in an open tupperware container go bad faster than something in a closed tupperware container? use that analogy to realize that it makes a big difference how well sealed the container is. also realize that it makes a big difference how much air space has been created in the can; consider a zip lock bag half full of air vs vaccum sealed.

      • kitchenmyths November 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm

        I don’t think it makes a difference. Food in an open contained will dry out faster, but I don’t think it will “go bad” faster (growth of bacteria, spoilage, etc.).

  3. kitchenmyths August 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I have not heard this – but it is definitely a myth! You are correct that the air, and more important any bacteria, will get in when the jar is first opened. I don’t think that keeping the jars upside-down is a problem- – assuming they don’t leak – but it would not have any advantage.

  4. Melanie Palmero October 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Hi,

    I hope you’re having a great week! I saw you wrote about kitchen safety here and thought you might be interested in an infographic I helped build. It’s about all the scary statistics around kitchen accidents and has tips on how to avoid them. Here’s the infographic.

    If you think your readers would like it too, please feel free to use it on Kitchen Myths. There’s code at the bottom of our post that makes it super easy to post on your blog. It’s all free (of course), we love sharing our content! If you have any questions about posting it, let me know and I’ll try to help.

    Thanks!

    ~Melanie

  5. bailey barnett November 10, 2011 at 2:13 am

    hi so who writes all these post i kinda need to know plzzzzzz answer!!!!!!!!

  6. Marcos December 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I don’t know how to make a myth or whatever but I need help. I ate top ramen cup of noodles and i cook it too long sometimes like 6 minutes and i heard that the toxins in the foam melt and go into your noodles. Is that true? Also what can I do to get rid of it or whatever what treatmet?

  7. Lacy December 24, 2011 at 8:08 am

    can you site your sources for your information? I already disagree with like 4 of your blogs and it is based on readings that I have done in the past.

    • kitchenmyths December 24, 2011 at 10:12 am

      I appreciate your request but I explicitly decided not to cite sources – although I have them for every post – for several reasons. I wanted to keep the blog enjoyable and easy to read. Also, it’s my experience that a lot of people are going to keep their old beliefs regardless of evidence. And, because these myths are widely believed, it’s easy to find books and web sites that claim the myth is true. The “trick” is to be able to distinguish reliable sources from the vast amount of nonsense that is out there. It also helps to have a scientific background, as I do, to be able to evaluate the validity of some claims.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • grantmasterflash2000 January 3, 2012 at 7:45 am

        So basically it’s just one person opinions that can’t be backed up. I also notice that when there’s conflicting studies posted they’re ignored. Next.

      • kitchenmyths January 3, 2012 at 8:18 am

        No, that’s not the case – did you not bother to read what I wrote? Nothing on this blog is just my opinion, everything is backed by credible sources. If you’re interested, you can find them yourself.

      • kelsey February 18, 2013 at 3:22 am

        The problem is that several of your posts are made in situations where the research is limited or conflicting, and because you don’t cite the research it is unclear which sources you are choosing to use to “de-bunk” myths. Additionally, although you may have a scientific background, it doesn’t seem you understand the politics behind some of the posts. Ex. Your post saying there is no discernable health difference between organic & conventionally produced foods. A most recent meta-analysis of studies over the last several years was used widely in the media to argue that there was little difference between the health benefits between organic & conventional foods actually measured whether there was a greater nutrient density in organic foods, not long term health effects of consumption of pesticides, herbicides, etc. Additionally this study stated there was little difference in produce with pesticide levels over what is allowed EPA rules and used this fact to extrapolate there was nothing wrong with consumption of conventional produce. The question that needs to be asked is are the current rules acceptable. There aren’t clear answers to these questions at this time. It is very important to recognize the uncertainty surrounding many of these issues. http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/september/organic.html Similar analysis of the same studies can produce different results. http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2012/09/04/michael-pollan-organic-study/ Also, the amount of research examining the health effects of specific pesticides is limited at best. Pesticides are often pushed out & used for decades with little information on the long term effects of human consumption of the foods. When you state “The “trick” is to be able to distinguish reliable sources from the vast amount of nonsense that is out there.” you assume that there is consensus within the scientific community about the contentious issues you discuss; this is an incorrect assumption. When you pick a particular side to unsettled issues and present it as fact rather than currently under debate, you are just spouting off your opinions. I think this blog would be much more useful if you included citations, so readers can know which “credible sources” you have chosen to pay attention to and which you have chosen to ignore. These do not need to detract from readability of your blog, just include citations at the bottom of each post if you would like your blog to be credible.

  8. Anon January 15, 2012 at 2:29 am

    I wouldn’t call this a myth but more of a personal quirk. I really don’t like it when people leave cutlery in a dish and put it in the fridge, for left overs. I can’t justify it with a reason as to why this might be unhealthy (if you exclude germs from your hand/mouth and cheap rusting cutlery), but I just feel like its something that should be avoided. Can you give any reason as to why it should be avoided, other than of course because it reduces the number of forks in the use/wash/store rotation. 🙂

    • kitchenmyths January 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      I don’t think it’s dangerous – after all, any germs from your mouth are already on the food. However, it seems odd to me, I like to eat my food with clean utensils even when it’s leftovers! For the same reason, I never leave leftovers on the original plate I ate from.

  9. Anon January 15, 2012 at 2:45 am

    Lol. That comment from “grantmasterflash2000” was an example the reason you started this blog. I really wish that society put a much higher value on science and facts and yes, I accept that science hasn’t explained everything (yet) and misunderstandings are made. It amazes me how ridiculous some ads are and but there must be a large market for it because otherwise there wouldn’t be so many. If the world idolized scientists instead of the current type of celebrities, I think it would be a better place. 🙂

  10. Dean M. June 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I have heard a lot of people claim that raising the lid on a crockpot (slow cooker) adds 15-20 minutes of cook time. This doesn’t sound accurate to me. I don’t see how lifting a piece of glass will cause the food temp in a ceramic crock to drop to the point of requiring that amount of increased cook time, but I can’t find any place that has actually tested this. Can you point me towards a resource with some data? Perhaps a head-to-head test? Thank you much for your help.

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