Can you tell which is a cooking fact or myth?

By: Maria Trimarchi
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs? And what about mushrooms: can you rinse them, or not? Much of what many of us think is true in the kitchen is actually not -- and while sometimes that may mean less-tasty food, it could also put you at risk for food-borne illness. How many common cooking misconceptions do you believe?

What's the best way to cut an onion without crying?

Those tears you cry when you cut onions are caused by a chemical irritant called syn-propanethial-S-oxide, and the onion releases them as a way of protecting itself from predators like you. The best way to cut without crying is to chill out -- refrigerating the onion for about 30 minutes before cutting it can help.

What's the best way to avoid getting food poisoning from raw chicken?

Although we all once thought that washing raw chicken would keep us safe from food-borne illness, that's bad advice. Washing raw chicken can actually increase the odds you'll serve your guests chicken with a side of campylobacter bacteria -- and it also contaminates your sink and anything that's hit by a droplet. The best way to protect yourself from the bacteria is to thoroughly cook chicken until a meat thermometer reads it's reached at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, internally.

Which salt shouldn't be used in your recipes?

Can you substitute table salt for sea salt or kosher salt? Only if you want oversalted foods. Because grains of table salt are so much finer than those of kosher or sea salts, you can't use it interchangeably in your recipes.

You could cut youself with either, but which is more dangerous, using a sharp knife or a dull knife?

Using a knife can be dangerous, itself, but if the knife isn't sharp you're actually more likely to hurt yourself. Dull blades make you work harder to make a cut, and that can mean hand-related accidents.

What should you add to pasta water to make it boil faster?

Salting the water won't make a noticable difference to the boil time, unless you're using quite a bit of salt. The ocean, for instance, is quite salty, and about 3.5 percent salt. If your pasta water was 20 percent salt, it'd reach the boiling point nearly 25 percent faster than water without salt -- but 20 percent is inedible. Salting water is important, though, for flavoring, even if it doesn't decrease the time for the pot of water to boil.

How can you fix a salty sauce, stew or soup?

According to the cooking myth, adding a starch -- like a piece of potato, pasta or rice -- it will extract salt from the liquid. But, actually, all that potato will do is soak up salty liquid. It won't remove any salt. What will work is to add more unsalted liquid to the sauce, soup, or stew -- that could be anything from stock or broth to tomatoes to water (although water will dilute the flavors of your dish).

Is it true you can crowd pasta?

All kinds of pasta recipes call for huge boiling pots of water. But it turns out, as long as you make sure the pasta is completely covered by the water, it'll cook just fine.

Will adding salt to eggs while you're scrambling make the eggs tough?

Actually, overcooking eggs is what will make them dry, tough or rubbery, but salt isn't to blame. Salt, it's been found, can help your scrambled eggs stay moist -- give them a light sprinkle, and let them rest for 15 minutes before scrambling. Voilà.

How long can you safely leave your holiday foods out while you and your guests linger over dessert, before foodborne illness becomes a worry?

At room temperature (actually, anywhere between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit), microorganisms like to multiply -- and that can make you sick. Foods that should normally be refrigerated can sit safely on the counter, uncovered, for up to two hours.

What's the best way to keep pasta from sticking as it cooks?

Despite what you may have heard, adding oil to pasta water won't keep the pasta from sticking. It will, though, keep the sauce from sticking to your pasta's surface, and that's no good. Salt, while important for flavor, does nothing for stickiness. However, you will have perfectly individual pieces if you stir the pasta within the first one to two minutes of boiling.

Stopping the oxidation process from occurring in avocados can be tricky. Which of these is the least effective way of keeping homemade guac from turning brown?

Unless you eat it right away, you need a way to prevent -- or delay -- the browning that will inevitably happen. It turns out the pit is great at preventing browning, but only on the small area of guac it comes in contact with. So, not so great after all. It ultimately fails because it can't prevent the avocado from being exposed to the real enemy -- air. Plastic wrap pressed on top of the guacamole's surface does the best job of keeping exposure low, at least for a little while. Squirting the surface with lemon or lime juice or sour cream before covering it with plastic wrap is even better because their acidic nature will help slow the oxidation process. But perhaps the best method for preserving both color and flavor is to cover the surface with a half-inch deep layer of water before covering with plastic wrap. Just pour the water off before serving.

Where is the heat of the pepper found?

Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which is what gives them their heat. While you'll find capsaicin anywhere in a pepper, most of it is contained in the white pith, also called the rib -- but not the seeds, where many of us think it is.

Is it true that marinades tenderize meat?

Marinades are good for adding flavor, but because they penetrate less than a quarter of an inch into the meat, don't rely on them for tenderizing. What will tenderize meat is salt. Try brining meats in a salt and water mixture for juicier results.

How would you correctly finish the following? Cooking vegetables in the microwave will ____ their nutrients.

Typically the less you cook your food, the more nutrients the food will retain -- and any cooking method will lessen the nutrients in your food. But, not all cooking methods decrease nutrients equally, and microwaving is, actually, not the worst offender. In fact, microwaving vegetables could actually leave more nutrients behind than if those vegetables were boiled in nutrient-leaching water.

Why shouldn't you rinse pasta after it's cooked?

Just like pasta water should always be salted to enhance its flavor, it should never be rinsed after it's cooked. Doing so will rise off the starchy coating that's going to be important for not only thickening the sauce but getting the sauce to adhere to the pasta.

How would you get the most lemon juice out of a lemon?

Microwaving a lemon for 30 seconds before juicing it will reduce the amount of labor you'll need -- and because heating the lemon loosens it up, it's a juicier fruit. Rolling the lemon on the counter can also make juicing easier.

Is it true the alcohol burns off when the dish is cooked?

Although the alcohol you use in your recipes will lose some of its potency as it cooks, it's hard to cook it completely out of your dish unless you're making a long-cooking stew or another long-cooking meal.

Is it true you should never rinse mushrooms?

It's been a long-held belief that rinsing mushrooms to remove dirt and debris would cause them to soak up water like little sponges. So, we brushed off the dirt. But we were wrong. As long as you don't give mushrooms a long soak in water, you can safely give them a light rinse without hesitation.

Of these, which is the worst bread choice for making French toast?

Sandwich bread may be the worst choice for making French toast. It's too soft, and it's sliced too thinly -- together that's a recipe for it disintegrating in the egg/milk mixture before it's cooked. Brioche, challah and French bread, though, are classic choices for the best French toast, because they're richer. Choose day-old bread, and cut slices between a half-inch to one-inch thick.

Which type of cutting board should never be used for cutting raw meat?

Your favorite cutting board may not be the best for every kitchen task you find yourself doing -- but plastic or wood boards, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are both safe to use with raw meats. And when it comes to clean-up, nonporous surfaces like plastic are easier than wood. No matter what type, wash your board in hot, soapy water after each use, rinse and dry.

Where's the best place for American cooks to keep store-bought eggs?

While it's common for Europeans to store eggs on the counter, Americans do not. And it's not a matter of preference -- it's actually a matter of food-borne illness. Because salmonella vaccination isn't required for hens in the U.S., as it is for hens across the pond, only about one-third of U.S. farmers immunize against it. Eggs from American hens should be kept in the refrigerator (at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which means they shouldn't be stored in the door where temps can be inconsistent) to inhibit bacterial growth, and shouldn't be left out for more than two hours.

Is it true that cooking in aluminum pots and pans causes Alzheimer's disease?

While abnormally high levels of aluminum have been found in the brains of deceased Alzheimer's patients, there is no evidence that it's the fault of cooking with aluminum pots and pans -- or exposure to aluminum cans or antacids.

Is storing butter on the counter safe?

After about two weeks, butter's high-fat content makes it prone to a few problems, including oxidation and rancidity. That's also about the time when unrefrigerated butter's flavor begins to dim, and when it becomes most susceptible to bacterial growth. But, storing butter on the counter is safe, food safety experts say, as long as you follow just four rules: 1. only use pasteurized butter; 2. only use salted butter; 3. don't cross-contaminate it with dirty utensils (or hands); and, 4. store it unrefrigerated no more than two weeks.

Does frying at a higher temperature prevent foods from absorbing oil?

Successful frying is all about temperature. You want it to be somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit for foods that are not only less greasy-tasting, but also crisper because it allows a batter-barrier to develop between the oil and the food. Also, remember to remove the food as soon as steam stops escaping, or it will begin to soak up oil.

Will following the "five-second rule" make you sick?

As many as 79 percent of Americans admit to eating food that had fallen on the floor, as long as it'd been on the ground for less than five seconds. But the rule isn't really true -- it's more luck than science, it turns out. Food that's fallen on the ground will be contaminated, even though you can't see the bacteria and other potential pathogens, so you could get sick, or you might not. How much bacteria gets on your food is a combination of how long the food was on the ground, the type of food it is and the type of surface it landed on.

What causes sticky, gluey mashed potatoes?

Overcooking them or not draining all the water after you've boiled them can cause your mashed potatoes to have a sticky texture. But the biggest culprit is overmixing -- yep, you can overmash your mashed potatoes. Doing so can release too much starch, which gives the dish a gluey texture.

For a juicier piece of meat, how long should it sit after cooking?

Letting meat rest after you've cooked it not only helps it cool, it also allows its juices to redistribute. Cut into meat as soon as it's cooked and you run the risk of the juices running onto the cutting board.

You're heating butter in a skillet when you realize the chicken paillards won't fit in the pan. What do you do?

This is an easy one to fix. If you find all the chicken won't fit in one pan, just grab a second one to finish the job.

Is it true lobsters scream when you put them in boiling water?

Recent research has found lobsters (and crabs and shellfish) likely do feel pain when being boiled. But the sound you hear isn't screaming (crustaceans don't have vocal chords), It's the sound of the steam escaping from the shell.

What's the secret to an easy-to-peel hard-boiled egg?

Some people add salt to the cooking water, while others add vinegar. Some people swear poking a miniscule hole in the end of the egg is the trick. But none of these is the secret. It's actually all about the water's temperature. You need boiling water for easy-to-peel eggs.

What's the best way to clean a seasoned cast iron pan?

You wash your pots and pats in hot, soapy water, but your cast iron can be a little more high maintenance when it comes to cleaning. The best thing for your seasoned pan is to wash it in cold water -- and a teeny tiny bit of soap is OK as long as it's very tiny (otherwise it'll wash the seasoning right off that pan). And for sticky residue? Rubbing it with a little kosher salt will fix that, but you'll have to re-season the pan.

What does searing meat do to it?

While many steak eaters would tell you that searing the beef seals in its juices, it's actually not true. Searing the meat does boost its flavor, though, by browning the outside.

If you defrost meat you've kept in the freezer, can you refreeze it?

Although it can become a bit watery, it's Ok to refreeze defrosted beef, chicken, and almost any other food, as long as you thawed it in the refrigerator. Thawing on the counter rather than in the refrigerator can introduce microbial growth.

Are brown eggs are better than white?

Cage-free, organic, omega-3 or vegetarian-fed can be confusing, but what about the basic difference between brown and white eggs? Is a brown egg better than a white egg? It turns out, white or brown, an egg is an egg, and its color doesn't determine its nutritional value or flavor. Eggshell color is determined by a few things, but basically, white-feathered hens lay white eggs, and red/brown-feathered hens lay brown eggs.

What's the phenomenon when hot water sometimes freezes faster than cold water?

Although scientists aren't 100 percent sure why this happens, it's been observed since the time of Aristotle. Hot water can, sometimes, freeze faster than cold water, a phenomenon which is called the Mpemba effect.

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