Fact Or Fiction? We Put Seven Kitchen Myths To The Test

Does a splash of vinegar really help poached eggs? Do you really need to add oil to pasta water? Here’s your definitive guide.

We are all governed by a set of rules when we’re cooking: those fragments of wisdom picked up from parents, grandparents, and friends which we absorb and observe for years without even thinking about it.

Many of these urban legends don’t appear to have any grounding in reality. As a child, I remember flinging a piece of spaghetti earnestly at the wall to see if stuck and was, therefore, ready to eat. And to this day, I will still eye a cake impatiently when it comes out of the oven, because my mum always told me it had to cool down first — something to do with indigestion, apparently.

Inspired by a lengthy Twitter discussion on the subject a few weeks ago, we decided to put some of the most commonly-held kitchen rules to the test. Here is your definitive guide to which kitchen myths are true and which ones you can stop worrying about.

1. Putting A Wooden Spoon In Your Mouth Stops You Crying When You’re Chopping Onions

Putting a wooden spoon in your mouth stops you crying when you’re chopping onions.

Before there were onion goggles, there were old wooden spoons, which generations of people have put in their mouths to ward off onion tears. Other variations of this include placing a teaspoon or even an entire slice of bread in your mouth while you’re chopping. In truth, it doesn’t really work, as a quick test will indicate. The one trick in this category that’s ever worked for me is chopping under, or near, an extractor fan. The vent seems to absorb some of the acid released by the onions which causes tears in the first place. Try it.

Verdict: Fiction

2. You Can’t Reheat Rice

Reheating rice can give you food poisoning, but it’s very easy to avoid if you’re careful. The trick is to put your rice in the fridge within a couple of hours of cooking it for the first time. From there, it can be used as the base for many wonderful dishes: Chinese fried rice, or arancini, for example. Don’t reheat it more than once, though.

Verdict: Fiction

You can’t reheat rice.

3. Putting Oil In Pasta Stops It From Sticking Together

Many people think they should add oil to pasta water to stop it from sticking together. But it isn’t necessary. Most of the time, it doesn’t cause much harm, floating on top of the boiling water pointlessly. But if you use large amounts, it could discourage the sauce you add later from adhering to the pasta, so avoid it.

Verdict: Fiction

Putting oil in pasta stops it from sticking together.

4. You Should Add Vinegar When You’re Poaching Eggs

Adding a few drops of vinegar to water when you’re poaching eggs is not essential. But it can help, especially if you’re using slightly older eggs. The science: Vinegar increases the acidity of the water, which lowers the temperature at which the egg whites set.

Far, far more important than adding vinegar, though, is making sure you use the freshest eggs you can find. Most poached eggs which fail do so because they aren’t fresh enough.

P.S. If you do add vinegar, don’t worry about it flavouring the egg — you would have to add a lot for that to happen.

Verdict: Fact

You should add vinegar when you’re poaching eggs.

5. You Need To Cut Crosses In Brussel Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are available in shops from September through February, but most people only eat them at Christmas because they are a criminally underrated vegetable. They are also mistreated by people who cut crosses into their base. Don’t do it! It makes the vegetable soggy and miserable.

Even better, don’t boil your sprouts at all. They’re much tastier roasted.

Verdict: Fiction

You need to cut crosses in brussel sprouts.

6. Swallowing Apple Seeds Will End In Disaster

I still remember the singular horror of a sibling telling me, at a very young age, that the apple seeds I had just swallowed were going to grow into a tree in my stomach and sprout from my ears. Another, even more sinister, variation on this myth is that eating an apple can kill you because their seeds contain cyanide.

The good (largely unsurprising) news: Apple seeds won’t grow inside your stomach. Stomach acid will take care of that. The bad news: They do contain cyanide. But you’d have to consume hundreds of ground-up apple seeds to ingest a fatal dose, according to research.

Verdict: Fiction(ish)

Swallowing apple seeds will end in disaster.

7. You Should Add Milk To Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs are a deceptively difficult dish to cook well. I was originally horrified by the thought of adding milk at any point in the process. It is something I’ve never done. But then I consulted J. Kenji López-Alt's The Food Lab, something of a bible on the science of home cooking. His conclusion is that there are two good ways to cook scrambled eggs.

The first uses milk which you whisk into the eggs beforehand and left to stand for 15 minutes before cooking on a relatively high heat. The result is fluffy eggs which are tender and light in texture.

The second, and in my opinion infinitely superior, way of scrambling eggs is to whisk together nothing but eggs, salt and a small amount of cold butter. Cooking them on an incredibly low heat for around 15 minutes yields a luxurious, creamy texture which is unmatched by its milky counterpart.

Verdict: You choose.

You should add milk to scrambled eggs.

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