978 easy and fully explained recipes, with 11,910 photos and 77 videos

The blog of

The power of sayings and beliefs in the kitchen


Grade this page :

Last modified on: February 6th 2011

The power of sayings and beliefs in the kitchen

One day, in the comments on the recipe for beaten egg whites, a young woman asked if you could beat egg whites stiff while having a period, as a friend had told her it wasn't possible.

Sometime later another person commented that for mayonnaise it had been (get this!) scientifically proven that a woman having her period couldn't make it successfully…

In the 3rd millennium (that really is where we are), this kind of idea leaves one reeling, but, well, I suppose (I hope, even) that behind it there's a large measure of what we might call “continuity”: we've been told this when we were very young (or at an age when we were more inclined to believe what others said, especially if they were adults), we took it at face value, then later never gave it another thought, the saying having become an accepted truth.

This belief that “women who are having their periods can't make good mayonnaise” is actually quite widespread. I heard the chef Hervé THIS telling a conference that he'd discussed this with a senior schools inspector, a woman who was convinced it was true!

Quite a few wine growers of, let's say, a generation ago, would bar the ladies from going down into the cellar for fear that they'd “spoil” the wine.

So for some, a woman's normal physiological processes can affect food that she is preparing – and that without her even touching it? Must be magic…

Of course, like any man who pays attention to and cares for the woman in his life, I know that this is a time when one can be rather more sensitive, irritable, or a bit tense, so managing tricky operations might be a little more risky, but quite frankly, when it comes to beating eggs or making mayonnaise, it's hardly an issue.

But apart from these medieval (and chauvinistic) sayings about women's periods, there are plenty of other more innocuous sayings that work pretty much the same way: everyone knows that… You know, the sort of phrases that start something like, “You should always cover a pan while it heats, so that it comes to the boil more quickly”, or “You should leave the stone in with the avocado flesh to stop it turning brown”.

And I'm sure that you must know loads of others. I've been wondering just how true they are. And, above all, how can we test them?

With this in mind, a while ago I set up a new category of recipes (not that they are that really) dedicated to such kitchen sayings. The principle is more or less this: I take a saying and I attempt to test by simple means if what we've been told is true or false. Of course, I wouldn't pretend to announce the result as scientific fact. It's just a matter of common sense; the saying says this: OK, let's do it to see if it's true, and let's do precisely the opposite to see if it really doesn't work and therefore if there is any rule we might apply.

As I don't have any sophisticated apparatus to hand, we're in Mr Average's kitchen after all, I make a point of doing it with the most basic of means: a thermometer, scales, etc. I started with a saying that I believed myself: “You should always cover a pan while it heats, so that it comes to the boil more quickly”, a phrase I'd heard many times, even from the mouths of chefs on television.

To test if this was true, I just measured the time a pan of water took to come to the boil, both covered and uncovered. And what a surprise! Covered or not makes no difference (or so little that it's negligible). Yet at the outset I would have bet that that it was true; it seemed to be so obvious.

If we need a maxim or a way of summing this up, it might be, “Don't take any rule or tradition for granted, test it first”.

P.S. If you have any similar sayings in mind that you would like to see tested, do send them in.

Back to top of page

Lasts posts

The 3 essential knives The 3 essential knives

You must have heard a chef or cook say: "There’s no good cooking without good ingredients". This is very true, of course, but for any amateur or beginner it is equipment that really counts to start with. What I mean is that you should not skimp on [Read more...]

Using stretch food film effectively Using stretch food film effectively

Maybe you use food film in your own kitchen. You know, the very thin, clear plastic stuff that you can stretch, often used to cover food and protect it from the air. It’s become so widely used that it’s now an essential item for pros. They even [Read more...]

The mock CAP baker's certificate exam The mock CAP baker's certificate exam

The next instalment in my life as an apprentice baker at the French INBP professional school. I’m now halfway through training and it’s still as exciting as ever, and exhausting – but maybe I’m just getting old, or both… Anyway, a few days [Read more...]

Rosemary in recipes Rosemary in recipes

Rosemary, as I’m sure you know, is a culinary herb: It is one of the famous French "herbes de Provence", and is very effective in bringing a real taste of the Mediterranean to any dish. The classic way to use it in a recipe is to add a [Read more...]

The Holy Grail of French bakers The Holy Grail of French bakers

While browsing through the recipes on this site, you may have noticed that while I adore cooking (everything, in fact, to do with eating and drinking), I am particularly drawn to bakery: bread, viennoiseries and all that goes with them – it’s a [Read more...]

Is it really necessary to cream egg yolks? Is it really necessary to cream egg yolks?

Let’s try and answer a question that crops up in cookery and patisserie, even if it verges on the existential: do the egg yolks in a custard recipe really need to be beaten until pale, or not? You might already have noticed in many recipes [Read more...]

Egg yolks and caster sugar Egg yolks and caster sugar

We often come across recipes where we need to mix egg yolks with caster sugar. This would appear to be a very ordinary and simple thing to do but, be warned, these two ingredients can behave oddly together. Let’s take confectioner's custard [Read more...]

The golden-brown finish on puff pastry The golden-brown finish on puff pastry

Let's take a look at the tricky matter of producing puff pastry with an attractive, golden-brown finish. French pastry chefs call this "dorure" (literally, "gilding"). Behind this quirky term there lurks a real problem (and the solution): when [Read more...]

Other articles

visitors have also looked at

Maillard reactions
Maillard reactions
Aeroplane or take off the shirt
Aeroplane or take off the shirt
Choosing a chopping board
Choosing a chopping board
Raising (or leavening) agents
Raising (or leavening) agents

Post your comment or question

You are welcome, if you wish, to comment on this page: why you like it or not, what you have changed, what results it gave, point out a mistake or omission, etc. You can also ask a question. I answer all questions (in a broken English, sorry) unless someone else does it before me.
Please feel free to say what you think, I'm always very interested in your opinion. Your comment will appear on line with the page, so please write in standard readable English, not SIM or only in CAPITALS, otherwise your comment may be rejected.

Please look at advice for submitting a comment or image (what you should or should not do). By the way, don't type your e-mail address in the comment, otherwise you might be spammed.

I am not a leaving thing

Follow this page

If you are interested in this page, you can "follow" it, by entering your email address here. You will then receive a notification immediately each time the page is modified or a new comment is added. Please note that you will need to confirm this following.
I am not a leaving thing
Note: We'll never share your email with anyone else.
Alternatively: you can subscribe to the mailing list of , you will receive a e-mail for each new recipe published on the site.

Back to top of page