I guarantee you will have heard at least one if not all of the food myths below. Over the years, they have become so ingrained in the popular psyche that they are now accepted as true almost without question. They are spewed out as fact and repeated in cookery books, magazines and by TV chefs until the very notion that they might be false seems impossible.
Like all myths, some of the beliefs below do have some truth to them, but most are, I am afraid, just complete and utter nonsense. Others are rooted in misconceptions and out-of-date research.
Searing meat seals in the juices
This is perhaps the granddaddy of all cooking myths, and there are those who still claim that searing meat before cooking helps to retain moisture. It doesn’t; in fact, the heat may drive moisture out of the meat. What cooking your meat over a high heat does achieve is the caramelizing of the natural sugars on the surface in what is known as the Maillard reaction. This can add flavor, but it will not impact the moisture retained in the final dish.
Lobsters scream when boiled
Given that lobsters don’t have vocal chords of any sort, the notion of them screaming — even when faced with a hot demise — is unlikely. The noise is most likely caused by the expelling of air through the shell as the crustacean is dropped into boiling water. If you are squeamish, try placing the live lobster in cold water and slowly bringing it to boil.
Alcohol burns off when cooked
While cooking the booze you add to your sauces, soups and stews at a high heat will certainly reduce its potency, the reality is you would need to cook your dish for nearly three hours to get rid of all traces of alcohol.
You should not wash mushrooms
According to Larousse Gastronimique, “In order to retain the full flavor of mushrooms, it is best not to peel or wash them, but simply to wipe them with a damp cloth and then dry them.” But food maven Harold McGee has carried out tests that show most types of mushrooms actually absorb very little water if washed for a short time.
Salting beans makes them tough
Salting has little or no impact on the toughness of cooked beans. Any beans that remain hard after cooking are probably old. In fact, some research shows that salting beans can make them cook more quickly.
Putting oil in water stops pasta from sticking together
Putting oil in the water you cook your pasta in has no impact on if it sticks together or not. The oil will simply rise to the top. It will, however, stop your water from boiling over. Occasionally stirring your pot of pasta as it cooks will provide better results.
Cooking food in a microwave destroys its nutrition
Cooking your food in a microwave certainly does have an impact on the nutrients retained, but the truth is, microwaves are just another heat source and no more damaging than other methods of cooking, such as boiling or frying. In some cases it can actually help preserve nutrients, like vitamin C in vegetables. The key to good preparation is not to overcook your food, no matter the method you choose.
Fresh fruit is healthier than dried fruit
Adding any fruit to your diet is a good thing, but the myth persists that fresh is always better than dried. While there might be some marginal differences in mineral and vitamin content, the reality is that both contain similar amounts of sugar and fiber. Given that water is such a huge constituent of fresh fruit, a similar amount of dried fruit may well have more benefit than their fresh equivalents.
Salt increases blood pressure
Salt has become one of medicine’s great villains, yet many people seem totally unaware of how necessary the inclusion of it is to their diet. The myth dates back to tests carried out by a British doctor in the 1950s, which have been superseded by subsequent tests. As with all things health related, moderation is always best, but salt’s reputation as the great bogeyman seems to be undeserved.
You can’t deep-fry in olive oil
Try telling the population of Italy, Spain or Greece that they should not be frying in olive oil. It does have a lower smoking point than some other oils, such as peanut or vegetable oil, which means it can become bitter or make the ingredients take on an unpleasant taste. However, if you are cautious and heat the oil to the correct temperature, it is a great vehicle for frying delicious dishes like potato chips.