"I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then…"

by Katie Pizzuto on November 10, 2008

in food/drink myths

mythbustersI love the show Mythbusters, where all sorts of myths and urban legends get their moment in the sun to either be proven or disproven. As an homage to the show, I thought I’d put together a bunch of food/beverage myths that science shakes its head at. Keep these in a little corner of your mind (evacuate memorized lyrics to one-hit wonders if you’re running out of room up there) and pass on the knowledge next time someone recites these as natural law.

Jack Me Up – Many people think a single serving of espresso is much stronger than a standard-size cup of regular coffee, but a demi tasse of espresso actually contains less (half to two-thirds) caffeine than the average morning cup o’ joe. Caffeine content is determined by the length of time that the beans are in contact with the water. An ideal extraction of espresso takes approximately 25 seconds. Regular coffee is in contact with the water for way longer. The roast of the beans also factors into caffeine content. The darker roast in espresso coffee beans diminishes the concentration of the stimulant.

The Mayo Clinic – Everybody’s always telling you not to leave that macaroni salad out on the picnic table, right? But commercially prepared mayonnaise will NOT cause salmonella to grow, as the popular old wives tale goes. In fact, the bacteria cannot survive in the highly acid environment. The origin of the poisoning tale goes to preparing fresh mayonnaise, which typically does not have enough acid in the form of vinegar or lemon to ward of the growth of salmonella. Commercial mayo, because of its relatively low pH (in other words, it is acidic), will actually help prevent spoilage. When chicken salad, or something similar, spoils it is the other ingredients spoiling, not the mayo. When going on a picnic or setting out a buffet it is important to keep foods cold, but there’s no reason to avoid mayo.

Pandora’s Box – Putting a box of baking soda in your fridge is probably the most clever and successful marketing ploy ever, but the fact is that baking soda is very poor at absorbing odors. It seems to make sense, however, so lots of people have spent untold billions of dollars to put boxes of baking soda in their fridge or freezer to no effect. Activated charcoal would work much better but it’s pretty expensive in comparison. Tell ya what…just wrap your food well and clean the fridge once in a while, ok?

Some Like It Hot – The hottest part of a chili pepper is NOT the seeds, despite what people tell you, it is the white spongy rib…that’s where the greatest concentration of capsaicin exists. The seeds are the next most potent part, mostly because they cling to these ribs.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat – You can’t put hot food into the refrigerator, right? The food will spoil if you do that, won’t it? The food will spoil if it is NOT quickly cooled! The leading cause of foodborne illness in the US is improper cooling, such as leaving cooked foods at room temperature. Foods need to be quickly cooled past the “danger zone” (140° to 45° F or less) in order to help minimize the growth of bacteria.

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor – Bottles of tequila (true tequila is only distilled in the township of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico, just like sparkling wine is only Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region) DO NOT contain a worm…the Mexican Standards Authority (NOM) prohibits adding insects or larvae to tequila. It’s in mescal, a spirit beverage distilled from the agave plant, but which comes from areas other than Tequila. And technically speaking, it’s not actually a worm, but the larvae of one of two kinds of insects. The most common is the larvae of the agave snout weevil, and the other is a moth caterpillar which is actually considered a delicacy in Mexico and can be found on some restaurant menus, in case you’re ever hungry and south of the border.

A Wine By Any Other Name – Sake is widely referred to in English as “rice wine,” but this definition isn’t really accurate because the production of alcoholic beverages by multiple fermentation of GRAIN as opposed to FRUIT has more in common with beer than wine. The process of making sake is more akin to brewing beer than making wine, because grapes contain natural glucose that ferments easily. In beer and sake, though, the starch in the grain/barley/rice must first be turned into glucose before fermentation can take place. So even though it isn’t carbonated, and its body more closely resembles that of wine, it is nonetheless a bretheren of the beer family tree.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Coupe 60 November 10, 2008

That was one great blog Katie…You got a couple of Get the Frack outta here’s from me…Especially on the 1st two items…I kinda knew a bit about some of the others…Very interesting


2 Thom Calabrese November 10, 2008

Funny you should talk about urban legend type things, a group of winos were talking about the very same…..drinking sparkling wine through a straw gets you drunk faster.
Anybody got the poop on that.(are you sure about the baking soda…..my mother said….)
I guess I can get rid of the box that’s in there now, I thought the fact it’s been there for 5 years was why it wasn’t working! 🙂
Besides, now I have more room for beer,which as far as I can tell doesn’t make your frig smell better,but I’ve found if you drink enough of it(through a straw) you won’t care!


3 Thom Calabrese November 10, 2008

Oops, typing a little to fast


4 Linsey November 10, 2008

good blog – especially the chilli seeds – that one does the rounds here too (about them being hotter) and the baking soda one too – believe that one – even though i hadnt tried it

on the fridge one though – i was always told not to put hot food in the fridge because it warms the fridge up and so effects the rest of the food in there – rather than the cooling of the hot food itself


5 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

Here’s what I do know for sure, Thom… Normally, we absorb 20% of any alcohol we drink in the stomach and the remainder in the intestines. Sparkling wine in general does get into your system faster than still wine (and has been proven to in lab tests), but they aren’t sure why…one theory is that carbon dioxide in the bubbles somehow speeds the flow of alcohol into the intestines. That being said, if sipped through a straw, you’d be taking in more OXYGEN but not CO2, so that theory sounds blown to me!

And yes, 100% sure about the baking soda, although Arm & Hammer would no doubt argue that, but they have no scientific proof…just great marketers!


6 Anthony November 10, 2008

Very interesting blog. I also had know idea about the baking soda theory. Well As they say Marketing is the key to products success even if the inforamtion isnt true.


7 Anthony November 10, 2008

sorry about the spelling my bad


8 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

Lindsey, overall, the food in your fridge has been sitting at that cold temperature for quite some time. To imagine that one small container of leftovers will warm an entire fridge to dangerous levels doesn’t make too much sense to me…that’s actually a new one to me, as usually, the reason we were given as kids for not putting hot food in the fridge was for the benefit of the leftover, not the rest of the refrigerated items.


9 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

no worries about the spelling, Anthony….we’re all fluent in typos here! 🙂


10 Linsey November 10, 2008

love these are they real or not things

tell what does work though – not really cooking but… distilled vinegar on shower heads to get rid of limescale build up inside – cheaper than the manufacturers products


11 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

as long as you’re not reusing it in a salad, right?!? LOL!! 🙂


12 Anthony November 10, 2008

Thanks on your approval Katie By the way what is the recommended temp. for the USA in a refriderator


13 Anthony November 10, 2008

LOL Katie


14 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

40°F or lower is the recommended refrigerator temperature to slow bacterial growth and maintain quality, so anything below that is a matter of preference. Freezing occurs at 32°F, so you’ve gotta stay above that obviously!!


15 Linsey November 10, 2008

ohh – oops katie! – guess recycling like that not a good idea!


16 Linsey November 10, 2008

here in the uk we use celcius for fridge temps and the recommended is 0-4 degrees – which is why i wondered about the rise in temp – small things obviously wont make a huge difference

actually its so difficult to know – u cool things down to put in the fridge – bacteria can form

defrosting also is that same problem – but how can u defrost quickly on a large item

when it comes down to it with myself – when its meat or fish i just make sure its cooked really properly – especially poultry and pork


17 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

You’re right, Lindsey…you have to be very careful when defrosting (I tend to do it in a microwave if I have to). However, when it comes to cooking pork thoroughly, that’s technically another “myth”. It took me a long time to convince my mother-in-law of this one, but Trichinosis from pork is no longer a problem in most of Europe and North America. Pigs used to be fed table scraps and whatever else was laying around. This contributed to widespread trichinosis, but all pork found in the grocery store is raised on specific feed, not slop. Trichinosis is all but eradicated now, so you can eat your pork mid-well or even medium.


18 Linsey November 10, 2008

trichinosis – is that the worm that is suppose to be in the flesh which is why you cook it through?

ironic though – when some people eat pheasants that have been hung so long that they are crawling and still cook them rare and there is also the cheese in Italy (i think) that has maggots in it and is considered a delicacy

must admit to being careful about shellfish and poultry though – definately never take risks with those ones


19 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

Correct, it’s a worm that worked its way into pigs with the table scraps. And right about the cheese…casu marzu, is made in Sardinia, Italy, from sheep’s milk cheese. The maggots are encouraged to grow, eat their way through the cheese, and give it an extremely tangy, creamy texture. Casu marzu is considered toxic when the maggots in the cheese have died. Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is eaten. It’s outlawed, but sold on the black market.


20 Coupe 60 November 10, 2008

I gottta tell you…I’m gonna have to pass on the casu marzu…sorry


21 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

That makes two of us dude…and probably any body else reading this blog. Surprised this “delicacy” didn’t make it into the Omnivore’s 100.


22 Linsey November 10, 2008

make that three – if there is one thing i hate in the whole world its maggots – they turn my stomach big time


23 Winestein November 10, 2008


I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get to the bottom of this one for a long time…that you must prick a potato before baking it in the oven or else it will explode. I heard long ago that it was a myth, and ever since I stopped pricking my potatoes before baking and have never had one explode. But I still hear folks today insisting it is true and have even had folks tell me about ones exploding in their ovens. What say you?


24 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2008

Winestein, the reason for poking holes in the potato is that during baking, the water naturally found in a potato converts to steam. If there is no way for the steam to escape, too much pressure may build up internally.Then, splat! It isn’t a foolproof rule, though, which is why you may have gotten lucky here and there. Potatoes also vary in water content (just like starch) so that’s a variable as well. Hope that helps!


25 Linsey November 11, 2008

i have had potatoes burst open if they arnt pricked – but not explode – just one section rips


26 Michael November 11, 2008

I’m curious… are your myth busting qoutes fact or opinion?


27 Katie Pizzuto November 11, 2008

All fact, Mike…I’d never state any of this as opinion unless it was followed by some real obvious wiseass comment. When those start, you know it’s mere opinion 😉


28 Tish November 12, 2008

I was feeling a little jilted this morning when I saw that box of baking soda in the corner of the fridge.


29 doris November 19, 2008

Another great blog, Katie. However, I still like green bean cassarole.


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