Half-Baked Cooking Myths You Need to Scrub From Your Memory

Senior woman adding white wine while preparing fish with her husband at home

miodrag ignjatovic/istockphoto

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Senior woman adding white wine while preparing fish with her husband at home
miodrag ignjatovic/istockphoto

Culinary Confusion

It’s a great time to be an at-home chef and amateur foodie. Your next great baked Alaska, duck flambé, or Cornish hen, after all, is just one YouTube video or Blue Apron box away. The problem with all the information floating around is that a lot of it is misinformation. Combine internet folklore with old wives’ tales from forever ago and the result is kitchens that are cluttered with mythology about storing, cooking, and preparing food. Bust these myths first.

Related: Urban Legends About Popular Foods Debunked

Her first cup in the morning

1. Keep Coffee in the Fridge — or Even Better, the Freezer

Some people will tell you to keep your coffee beans cold or even to freeze them to preserve their freshness and extend their life. Those people do not represent the National Coffee Association, whose website states: “To preserve your beans’ fresh roasted flavor as long as possible, store them in an opaque, air-tight container at room temperature.” 

Related: The Secret History of How Coffee Took Over the World

Chef cutting chicken for cooking

2. Plastic Cutting Boards Are More Hygienic Than Wood

Wooden cutting boards — even old ones scarred with knife cuts — resist dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella better than plastic ones after being washed with soap and hot water, according to the San Antonio Express-News. That runs contrary to common wives’ tale wisdom, which insists that wood is porous and can’t go in the dishwasher and therefore is more hospitable to microscopic bugs. There’s no evidence to support that, but there is evidence to the contrary. With either wood or plastic, replacing warped, worn, stained, or scarred cutting boards is the only way to be safe and sanitary.  

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man cutting a piece of pork tenderloin

3. Don’t Cut Meat on Wooden Cutting Boards

This one, too, is based on the belief that wood is more porous or prone to knife scars and therefore harbors more bacteria. In terms of meat and the dangers of cross-contamination, wood is no better or worse than acrylic, marble, plastic, or glass, but it has to be solid wood, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Much more important than your choice of material is that you strictly segregate one cutting board for meat and nothing else. 

Related: Kitchen Mistakes You're Probably Still Making

Overcrowding the Pan

4. Cooking With Teflon Pans Is Dangerous

After a long life of heavy use, nonstick pans sometimes chip and flake, particularly cheaply made ones. When a nonstick pan gets to that point, it’s definitely best to retire it and buy a new one — but if you swallow a flake or two, relax. Contrary to popular mythology, that coating, which is sure to be polytetrafluoroethylene, or Teflon, isn’t particularly dangerous and you’ll just pass it without realizing, according to Scientific American. Nonstick pans used to contain a suspected carcinogen called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, but its use has been almost completely phased out of all manufacturing processes. (Overheating Teflon is a concern, though.) 

Pasta cooking - chef puts sea salt into boiling pot, close up

5. Adding Salt Makes Water Boil Faster

This one is on the fence because it’s only sort of a myth. It’s technically true that saltwater gets hotter faster than non-salinated water, according to Live Science, but it wouldn’t be noticeable until it was many times saltier than seawater. A second or maybe two worth of saved boiling time would come at the cost of too much salt for any sane recipe. As far as a human cook can discern, water with a little cooking salt added boils no faster than it would fresh out of the tap. 

Canning food

6. Canning With Boiling Water Preserves Food Safely

This is a myth — or a misunderstanding, at least — and one that it’s important to understand. Canning by boiling safely preserves only some food. Unlike salt, pressure cooking does noticeably increase the boiling point of water. Canning with the traditional boiling method is fine for acidic foods such as fruits, jams, and high-acid vegetables including tomatoes. Boiling kills botulism, but not botulism spores. To kill those in non-acidic vegetables and other vulnerable foods, you’ll have to go a few degrees higher than naturally boiling water can reach on its own. Only pressure canning can achieve that kind of extra-hot boiling.  

Profile view of small black girl drinking milk at home.

7. You Need Milk For Strong Bones

The dairy industry succeeded so thoroughly for so long in positioning milk as the only source of calcium that even today, people drink milk and give it to their children because they believe their teeth and bones will be at risk if they don’t. It’s true that milk is high in calcium — about 300 mg per 8-ounce cup,according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation. That’s exactly how much calcium, however, you’ll find in the same serving of fortified alternative non-dairy milk made from soy, almond, and rice. Cooked collard greens contain 266 mg per serving. You can get up to 1,000 mg of calcium just by eating a fortified cereal for breakfast.  

Man cutting gala apples for a snack

8. You Can Lose Weight While Eating ‘Negative-Calorie’ Foods

It’s easy to understand why dieters would want to believe that some foods, such as apple slices, require more calories for the human body to chew, digest, and process than the actual foods contain. You can, the myth goes, burn calories and lose weight just by eating. Sadly, it is exactly that — a myth. Healthline states plainly, “There are no actual negative-calorie foods. Though it’s true that most of these foods are nutritious, it’s unlikely that any of them are negative-calorie. Each of them contains calories, and there is no evidence to support the notion that they require more energy to eat, digest, and process than they provide.” 

Sunlight and warmth turn potatoes skin green witch contain high levels of a toxin, solanine which can cause sickness and is poisonous. Do not buy and eat green potatoes! Heap on sackcloth.
Helin Loik-Tomson/istockphoto

9. Just Peel Away the Green Part of a Potato

Green potatoes can be dangerous. If any part of one is green, peeling that part away can help, according to Healthline. But green only indicates the presence of a toxin called solanine. That toxin could be anywhere in the potato, so it’s always best to throw it out. Potatoes produce trace amounts of solanine naturally to resist pests and fungi — it’s part of why potatoes are so hardy. When exposed to light and heat, however, solanine levels increase. By the time you see green, it can be present in levels high enough to cause headaches, nausea, and even neurological problems. 


10. You Don’t Have to Refrigerate Eggs

The internet is filled with videos of foodies who swear that eggs left out at room temperature taste fresher and last just as long as those banished to the flavor-sapping abyss of the fridge. Those videos come from other countries. In the U.K. and elsewhere, it’s totally okay to leave eggs out at room temperature because hens are vaccinated and therefore can’t pass salmonella onto their eggs. In the U.S., however, you definitely want to chill your eggs. Our eggs are power washed to blast away salmonella and other dangerous bacteria instead of the hens being vaccinated. In the process, a protective layer called the cuticle is also blasted away, leaving unrefrigerated eggs vulnerable to contamination.  

Inside a Home Fridge with bread  and other articles

11. Bread Keeps Longer in the Refrigerator

For generations, people have been tossing bread of all shapes and sizes in the fridge to rescue it from getting stale. Unfortunately, that has the opposite effect. According to Good Housekeeping, bread goes stale much faster when cooled because low temperatures cause starch molecules to crystallize faster than they normally would.  

Frozen meat in the freezer
DorukTR / istockphoto

12. You Can’t Refreeze Thawed Meat

There’s a common myth that says meat or seafood from the freezer can never be safely refrozen once thawed. That isn’t always true, according to the Washington State Department of Health. It’s just fine to refreeze as long as the meat was defrosted slowly in the refrigerator. Any other method of defrosting and the myth holds up — eat or throw away.  


13. You Have to Refrigerate Ketchup

You certainly can refrigerate ketchup, but you don’t have to, according to GoodHomes magazine. Nonperishable with a shelf life measured in years, ketchup can be stored in the cabinet or anywhere else at room temperature. Refrigerating it only makes it taste less acidic.  

Senior woman adding white wine while preparing fish with her husband at home
miodrag ignjatovic/istockphoto

14. Alcohol Cooks Off During Cooking

If you use wine, beer, vodka, or any other adult beverage as an ingredient, don’t fall for the myth that says all the alcohol cooks off during the cooking process. It can, but research published in ScienceDirect showed that factors such as temperature and cooking time play a big role in determining whether the pasta sauce accidentally gets the family a bit tipsy. 

Variety of salts in spoons

15. Salt Is Salt

Depending on whether it’s drawn from the sea, mined from the earth, or made in a lab, salt can look different, taste different, have different mineral properties, and different uses in the kitchen. It’s the most important seasoning agent and flavor enhancer across all culinary traditions. If you’re serious about cuisine, or even if you just like to cook, you’ve got to get serious about salt. There are at least a dozen different kinds, including finely ground and highly processed standard table salt, but there’s also quick-dissolving, meat-enhancing kosher salt, which is coarsely ground and flaky. Damp and sandy with a briny taste, Celtic salt comes from tidal ponds near France. Trendy pink Himalayan salt gets its name and trademark color from the mineral-rich mountains that birthed it.


Related: Spices and Spice Blends That Will Make Almost Any Meal Better