Asian Recipes

Asian Recipes Blog

The Unrivaled Practical Guide for Asian Cooking

Why is knowing the smoking point of an oil important?

The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it starts to smoke. When an oil smokes, it begins to decompose, and - say some experts - many of its unsaturated fatty acid molecules become saturated. What is known for sure is that the chemical breakdown of the gylcerol molecules in the fat creates acrolein, an obnoxious-smelling compound that can inflame the cook's respiratory system.

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06:13:36 on 10/31/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why do many short-order cooks prefer to deep-fry in used oil?

More than thrift encourages these chefs of the coffee shop circuit to flavor secondhand oil. As food cooks, it dyes the oil, gradually imparting a deep honey pigmentation that can be transferred to the next batch. This cosmetic benefit comes at the expense of proper flavor and aroma, as you undoubtedly have noticed if you have taken a bite of one of those photogenic French fries served at your neighborhood greasy spoon.

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11:22:56 on 10/30/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

When making soup, why add the bones when the water is still cold?

Your goal is to extract from the bones as much of their taste, aroma, color, nutrients, and thickening agents as you can. A sudden plunge into boiling water would partially seal these elements into the bones, and therefore fewer of them would leach out into the water. However, if the bones are added when the water is still cold, it would have the time to slowly add the elements to make your soup more tasty.

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05:02:57 on 10/29/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why should we avoid using the cooking wines found in supermarkets?

A centuries-old maxim says never cook with less than a good wine because a bad one will impart its inferior qualities to your food. The flavor and bouquet of supermarket products labeled "cooking wine" are, in one word, inferior. If a cooking wine contains alcohol (not all do), the cook must contend with another negative. The manufacturer must by law make the alcoholic cooking wines undrinkable by infusing them with copious amounts of strong flavoring ingredients, such as salt or MSG. These additives throw recipes based on regular wine out of kilter.

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03:09:04 on 10/28/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What is the essential difference between white and brown sugar?

Brown sugar contains molasses, a byproduct of the cane sugar-refining process. It is this dark, sticky substance that gives brown sugar its distinguishing flavor, aroma, and color. Despite the claims of some health food faddists, brown sugar is practically as low in nutritional value as white.

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07:02:09 on 10/27/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why is chili generally more popular in tropical than in temperate zone cuisines?

As with many questions about culinary traditions, the answer is multifaceted. First, chili makes living in the scorching tropics more bearable because this species of capsicum helps cool the body. Yes, that seemingly paradoxical statement is true because the consumption of the essential oils of chili turns the body into, if you will, a walking air-conditioning unit. Chili usually causes the diner to sweat. When the heat of the day or a dry breeze evaporates this perspiration, the diner's skin cools, because as water changes from a liquid to a gas, it absorbs a lot of heat calories from its surrounding environment.

Second, hot chili perks up the appetite, an important consideration because tropical weather does anything but whet the desire for food. On a hot, muggy day in the tropics, you have as much appetite as you would in a steam bath.

Third, hot chili adds needed zest to a diet that would otherwise be, for the most part, comparatively bland. Though tropical fruits are ambrosial delights, vegetables and seafood in the tropics are generally much blander than in the temperate zone.

Fourth, chili is a natural preservative. This makes chili valuable to people who live in the tropics because the hotter the climate, the faster and the more likely food will spoil.

Fifth, as contemptible cooks have long known, chili can swamp the telltale taste of spoilage.

Even chili-climate cuisines can benefit from chili. Besides providing flavor excitement for its own sake, chili aids digestion by accelerating the flow of gastric juices.

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06:22:02 on 10/26/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What is the difference between green and red chili?

Color indicates how ripe the fruit was when it was picked. Color has nothing to do with species. All chilies, and the world has countless varieties, are green when young. If left on the vine to ripen fully, the fruit loses much of its chlorophyll content and the previously hidden red (or in some cases, yellow or orange) becomes more visible.

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05:23:39 on 10/25/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why is kosher salt better for sprinkling on food like corn on the cob?

Kosher salt crystals are larger and cling better to food surfaces because they have a more jagged configuration. Kosher salt is so named because it was specially developed as an aid for Jews who adhere to kosher dietary laws, one of which requires that as much blood as possible be removed from meat before it is cooked; the characteristics of kosher salt make it better suited for drawing out the blood.

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09:13:13 on 10/24/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How to save oversalted soup?

Rice, pasta, or raw peeled potatoes will absorb a fair amount of the salt if you simmer the starch staple in the soup until the ingredient is cooked to your liking. Then remove and use it for another dish. If you use rice or small-size pasta, cook it in a string-tied cheese-cloth bag for easy removal.

Prohibition-era drinkers knew this salt-absorbing technique well. Cooking wines were widely and legally available but were heavily salted to make them unsuitable for drinking. Many skirted the law by steeping potatoes in cooking wine to make it palpable.

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06:26:40 on 10/23/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How does sugar affect the taste of a bitter, salty, or sour substance?

How does sugar affect the taste of a bitter, salty, or sour substance?
Sweetness lowers the intensity of a bitter, salty, or sour taste quality. This phenomenon partially explains why a coffee drinker adds sugar to a bitter brew, why a cook adds a pinch of sugar to an oversalted dish, and why a lemonade maker uses sugar to counteract the acidity of the lemon juice. Interestingly, the reverse is true too. A bitter, salty, or sour substance lowers the intensity of sugar. That's why it's difficult for our taste buds to detect how much salt and sugar some processed foods contain.

Try this sugar-salt taste experiment
See how salt and sugar significantly affect each other in your taste perception. Half fill three standard-sized glasses with room-temperature water. Label them A,B, and C. Stir 1/2 teaspoon of salt into glasses A and B. Stir 1 teaspoon of sugar into glasses B ad C. Cross-taste A and B. Does A taste saltier than B even though both contain the identical quantity of salt? Now cross-taste B and C for sweetness. Does C taste sweeter than B even though both contain the same amount of sugar?

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06:45:50 on 10/22/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Does the phase of the menstrual cycle or a pregnancy affect how a female cook might season a dish?

The phase of the menstrual cycle or a pregnancy affects sensitivity to odors and therefore could possibly affect how a female cook adjust seasonings. The ability of a female cook to taste-test foods is keenest during the middle of the twenty-eight-day cycle and during the first three months of pregnancy. During the last two-thirds of pregnancy, however, her sense of smell is less acute than normal time.

10:13:36 on 10/21/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Do in-flight chefs face special culinary problems?

They must use more aromatic seasonings than normal because food tastes blander in an airplane than on the ground. First, the cabin pressure decreases the volatility of the odorant molecules and therefore the passenger's capability of sensing them. Second, the cabin's relatively dry atmosphere dehydrates and therefore impairs the passenger's olfactory sensory mechanism.

The cabin's low humidity also dehydrates the passenger's entire body. Consequently, the chef should not season liberally with salt because it would increase the body's need for water. Many passengers compound the dehydration problem by consuming quantities of coffee and alcohol (both diuretics), canned tomato juice (extremely salty), and soft drinks laden with thirst-producing sugar. The one liquid that would do them the most good is plain water, which they seldom imbibe on planes.

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06:34:06 on 10/20/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How does pectin set a jelly?

The essential thickening agent in jelly is pectin, a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in most fruits. If your jelly does not set, you can safely assume that either too little pectin or an incorrect proportion of other ingredients went into it, or that cooking conditions interfered with the thickener's job. Two main factors determine a jelly's pectin content. The first is the type of fruit used. For instance, apples, citrus fruits, cranberries, sour blackberries, and quinces have a high pectin content. The opposite is true for apricots, pineapples, sour cherries, peaches, nectarines, raspberries, and strawberries.

The second pectin-content determinant applies to all fruits: the stage of ripening. An almost ripe fruit is more appropriate for making jelly than a fully ripe or unripe one because useful pectin is at its maximum just before the fruit reaches its peak of ripeness. To compensate for a pectin-deficient fruit, you can add a commercial pectin concentrate in liquid or powder form. Only a small quantity of this concentrate is necessary; beware of an overdose, which will give the jelly a tough, rubbery consistency, making it difficult to spread on toast - assuming someone would want to eat such an unappetizing product in the first place. The proportion of pectin can also be increased by reducing (boiling down) the fruit juice used in the jelly-making process.

Pectin alone will not set a jelly, for it requires both acid and sugar to thicken properly. Most fruits contain acid, but acid content also changes with the ripening process. Here is one more variable that makes an almost ripe fruit preferable to a fully ripe one: higher acid content. If you are using ripe fruit and a commercial pectin, you can supply the necessary acid by adding approximately 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of fruit juice. Since jelly recipes call for fistfuls of sugar, deficiency of it is unlikely to be the cause of any setting problems.

Heating makes the pectin in fruit water-soluble, a condition necessary for jelling. However, you must be careful not to destroy the pectin in your mixture by cooking it at too high a temperature or for too long.

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10:58:08 on 10/19/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why dry and unflavored gelatin powder should not be dissolved in hot water?

If you pour hot water directly into the dry, unflavored gelatin, some of the granules will lump and not dissolve. This lumping diminishes the gelatin's thickening power and produces a detectable grainy texture in your prepared dish. First blending the unflavored powder with a little cold water softens and wets the crystals. When the hot water is then added, the moist crystals readily dissolve.

If you are blending at least an equal portion of sugar into the plain dry gelatin, you can forgo the cold-water step because sugar counteracts the clotting effect. For best result, however, the hot water should be under 180 degrees F.

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13:46:34 on 10/18/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How does gelatin thicken a liquid?

Gelatin is a protein extracted from animal bones and connective tissue. Another rich gelatin source is seaweed. Irish moss (carrageen) is usually used whole, but most seaweed-derived thickeners are processed into products such as agar-agar. Gelatin increases the viscosity of liquids because when you moisten it, the gelatin granules swell up to approximately ten times their original size, trapping water molecules in the process. This phenomenon is somewhat similar to the thickening action of starches, but the final results are different. A gelatin-thickened preparation will be finer-textured and will retain its stability under a broader range of temperatures.

The firmness of a gelatin-thickened mass depends on the ratio of gelatin to liquid, the temperature of the mixture, and the presence of any other ingredients you may have added. Use too little gelatin and a limp product will result. Use too much gelatin and your creation may be capable of bouncing into your dining room on its own. The paragon mixture, when chilled and un-molded, will support its own weight, yet quiver slightly if shaken.

Firmness varies inversely with the temperature of the preparation. Once thickened, the preparation can be changed back into a liquid simply by heating it. Re-chill that liquid, and you once again have a solid. This alternating process can be done a number of times, though not indefinitely because repeated temperature extremes partially destroy the gelatin's thickening ability.

Some ingredients, including sugar in excess, inhibit gelatinization. Fresh pineapple is particularly difficult. It contains an enzyme (bromelain) that severely retards thickening. If you want to include fresh pineapple in your mixture, destroy the hindering enzymes by simmering the fruit pieces for several minutes. If you use canned pineapple, you can skip the parboiling step because the enzymes have already been deactivated.

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11:13:52 on 10/17/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Will substituting a different kind of starch affect the finished sauce?

Very much so. Viscosity, stability, texture, and translucency are all affected because the molecular structure differs with each type of starch, be it derived from wheat, corn, rice, rye, oats, millet, barley, or other cereal grain; from cassava, potato, or other root or tuber; from soybeans, peanuts, or other legumes; or from almonds or other nuts.

For example, if you substitute cornstarch for white wheat flour, you will have to alter the formulas given earlier. Use half the quantity of cornstarch because it has twice the thickening power of white wheat flour. If you substitute arrowroot, use slightly less than half the quantity because arrowroot has slightly more than double the thickening power of white wheat flour.

Whole wheat flour is less practical as a thickener than white wheat flour because the refined product has a higher starch content. Our experiments indicate that cake or pastry white wheat flour is more suitable than its all-purpose counterpart, which in turn is better than baker's flour. The last type produces a grainy sauce reminiscent of the pastes we used in elementary school. Specially processed instant wheat flours, such as the Wondra brand, can be sprinkled directly into sauces but direly lack stability.

Regular white wheat flour is superior to cornstarch and arrowroot in stability; a sauce made with it is less likely to separate and break down when subjected to prolonged heat. Both cornstarch and arrowroot produce a sauce that is smoother and more transparent, desirable qualities for many sophisticated dishes. Those two starches are generally incorporated into a sauce by means of using slurry (a fluid blend of flour and a liquid such as water) rather than the roux or beurre manie method, and this addition is usually done near the end, rather than at the beginning, of the sauce-making process.

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03:38:16 on 10/16/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How does starch thicken a sauce?

In two ways. First, the physical presence of the starch - a solid - lowers the proportion of the liquid in the sauce and therefore increases the sauce's viscosity. The second way is more complex and more significant. Each of the minute starch granules traps water molecules and, in the process, reduces the proportion of free-flowing water in the sauce. When the starch is heated, the molecular structure of each granule stretches, thereby increasing water retention.

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14:01:14 on 10/15/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How to make a soft custard?

Unlike a standard custard, a soft custard has a loose consistency resembling that of the so-called soft custard ice cream served on cones. This supple property makes a genuine soft custard ideal for filling pastries and topping desserts. The secret of making the preparation soft is to reduce the amount of binding that occurs between the egg protein molecules while you cook the custard. This requires stove-top (not oven) cooking because the mixture must be stirred constantly.

11:49:55 on 10/14/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why do eggs thicken a custard?

When heated, the protein in egg whites, and more particularly in the yolks, cooks and coagulates. Ideally, the solidifying protein simultaneously thickens the liquid (for example, milk) in which it is suspended. Under ideal conditions, there is an optimal proportion of egg protein to other ingredients. For the standard milk-based custard, use one large egg for every 2/3 cup of milk. If the egg size is small, medium, extra large, or jumbo, adjust the ratio accordingly. Since egg white also contains protein, you can use the whole egg, counting each egg white as about the equal of one egg yolk. (Your finished custard, however, will not be as rich and smooth-textured as one thickened strictly with yolks).

Milk itself contains proteins that thicken, so if you substitute a liquid such as water in a recipe, you will need to increase the number of eggs. Extra egg is also necessary if you add sugar, and even more so if you add acid, because these ingredients reduce the thickening ability of protein.

For the sake of simplicity, protein is generally referred to in singular. Technically, however, there are many types of protein. Since each type solidifies at a different temperature in a zone ranging from slightly below 140 degrees F to slightly below 180 degrees F, we must temporarily switch to the plural to draw attention to their different properties. Your custard mixture reaches its full glory when it is heated to slightly below 180 degrees F, the temperature at which all the proteins have finally coagulated. Above 185 degrees F, some of the proteins lose their coagulating effectiveness and your custard starts to "weep". Prolonged cooking, even below 180 degrees F, does the same damage.

06:58:02 on 10/13/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Are there more than one type of emulsion?

Two basic types of emulsions exist, which are oil-in-water and water-in-oil. A vinaigrette sauce is the oil-in-water variety. We use the term "water" because vinegar is about 95 percent water. Its oil is dispersed in the form of tiny droplets in the water. Milk and mayonnaise are also examples of an oil-in-water emulsion. Butter, in contrast, is an example of a water-in-oil emulsion. Its water is dispersed as tiny droplets in the oil.

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09:06:45 on 10/12/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What else can break down an emulsified vinaigrette sauce?

A homemade emulsified vinaigrette sauce does not have the chemical stabilizers found in commercial sauces. The emulsion can break down in short order. This would be the case if the cook only lightly emulsified the vinaigrette sauce, or made it too far ahead of time, or let the dressed salad sit around too long before being eaten.

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13:08:52 on 10/11/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why should a vinaigrette sauce be emulsified even if the salad greens have been dried?

Salads suffer from non-emulsified vinaigrette sauces. Some bites will taste too vinegary, some too oily. If the cook merely stirs the oil and vinegar together with a few fork strokes, he has formed an oil-and-vinegar sauce, not an emulsion. Even if the cook does a good job of drying the leaves, their surfaces will retain their natural water content. Since oil and water repel each other, the water on the leaves' surfaces will "push away" the oil, diminishing the oil's chances of sticking to the leaves.

In contrast, the oil in an emulsified sauce will not be repelled by the water on the leaves because the oil in this sauce doesn't come in direct contact with the leaves. Rather, the oil exists as minute droplets sheltered within the vinegar. Each droplet is separated from the other droplets by the surrounding water. Think of thousands of discrete, evenly scattered beads of oil in a glass of water.

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08:20:09 on 10/10/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Are eggs essential for making hollandaise?

Lecithin, the emulsifying agent in egg yolks, is not the only emulsifier that can be used with butterfat. You can substitute the milk protein casein, for instance, if emulsion is your only goal. (In fact, the small quantity of casein in regular butter does, to a slight degree, help emulsify your homemade hollandaise sauce).

Hollandaise sauce, however, needs egg yolks because they perform other functions. They contribute flavor, color, and nutrients and provide some water; if they did not, you would have to increase the amount of tap water called for in the recipe. Yolks supply a little fat, which supplements the butterfat.

Finally, some of the ingredients in the yolk work as a team to enhance the stability of the sauce by increasing the sauce's viscosity.

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10:09:26 on 10/09/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How to raise the ratio of solids to liquids?

You can accomplish this in several ways. One procedure, which chefs call "reduction", is to boil the liquid for a period of time so that some of it evaporates. (Many recipes, especially those of the classic French cuisine, advise the cook to reduce the liquid to one-half or less of its original volume). Reduction does more than thicken. It also concentrates existing flavors. And the Maillard reaction precipitated by heat chemically creates new flavors.

Another popular technique for thickening a sauce is to introduce a quantity of minute solids, such as pureed vegetables, into the preparation; the more water-absorbent these food molecules are, the thicker your sauce becomes.

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05:03:31 on 10/08/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Can we tell the sex of a tomato or an eggplant?

Many people have claimed that, by examining the size of the scar on the blossom end of the fruit, they can tell the "boys" from the "girls" and therefore determine which tomatoes and eggplants have more seeds. Though there tends to be a positive correlation between the smallness of the scar and successful seed development within these fruit-vegetables, the scar size cannot have anything to do with their sex because these foods are botanically perfect. The term "perfect" signifies a life form that can self-pollinate. Scar size can relate to the number of seeds in the food because when self-pollination occurs under less than optimum circumstances, seed development is below par and the scar size is larger than usual. A few fruit and vegetable buyers also erroneously claim that they can ascertain the sex of other perfect plants such as pineapples.

Some fruits and vegetables, however, are either male or female - the asparagus is an example. Nonetheless, the difference is not readily apparent to the naked eye at the marketplace because the talltale sexual characteristic (pistil, as opposed to stamen, development) is not conspicuous at the stage of the food's maturity when it is harvested.

10:22:16 on 10/07/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Do apple seeds contain poison?

Apple seeds do contain cyanide, a deadly poison. But this shouldn't stop you from enjoying apples, because the quantity of cyanide in the seeds is minute. Even if you were to swallow hundreds of seeds, the cyanide would pass through your digestive tract intact because it is encased by the seed's hard shell, which is impervious to the effects of both normal cooking and gastric juices.

Certain other seeds, including those of apricots and peaches, also contain traces of cyanide in their kernels. Since these seeds do occasionally split open, the eater is often exposed to the cyanide. The quantity of poison in one split seed, however, isn't a serious threat to a healthy person.

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00:39:19 on 10/06/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why shouldn't you serve tomatoes cold?

They won't be as aromatic and savory because cold hinders the conversion of the vegetable's linolenic acid to Z-3 hexenel, the compound that accounts for much of the desirable ripe-tomato scent and taste. Cold also reduces the volatility of molecules and therefore the number of Z-3 hexenel molecules that will reach your olfactory receptors. Another way to foster Z-3 hexenel development is never to place store-bought tomatoes in the refrigerator when you return home from the market (as most shoppers do). Instead, allow the tomatoes to ripen at room temperature for several days. They will be considerably more delicious.

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06:19:44 on 10/05/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why do most of the mass-marketed tomatoes have inferior flavor and texture?

These tomatoes have a relatively bland flavor and a cottony texture because commercial growers harvest their produce prematurely, and so the tomatoes are still very green, immature, and unripe when picked. This practice reduces spoilage losses because the tomatoes are less fragile and are therefore better shippers - and being less perishable, they are marketable longer.

The tomatoes are red when they reach the store because the food industry artificially turns them red by gassing them with ethylene. If they had been left on the vine to ripen naturally, they would have generated their own ethylene gas in time enough to trigger the color change. Though both artificially ripened and vine-ripened tomatoes are red, those that are reddened by nature have significantly better flavor, aroma, and texture.

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11:22:54 on 10/04/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Is tofu fat-free?

Many diners are under that impression that tofu is fat-free, but in actual fact, tofu (bean curd) has several times more total fat and twice as much saturated fat as the equivalent weight in skinless chicken breast. To be fair to tofu, let us point out that it has only half the total fat and saturated fat contents of a skin-on chicken leg serving of the same weight. Compare tofu to red meats and it seems like a fat-watcher's dream food.

06:32:18 on 10/03/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What is textured vegetable protein?

TVP, as it is known, is a meat substitute. More often than not, the product is manufactured from soybeans, because this Asian staple - unlike the other popular legumes - contains all eight essential amino acids and can be easily molded into any desired shape. Compared to meat, TVP has fewer calories and less saturated fat. On the negative side of the coin, the color and flavor additives in TVP-based products, like artificial bacon bits and meat extenders, can produce unpleasant tastes, smells, and textures. Soybean-based TVP can also foster flatulence.

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06:13:20 on 10/02/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why corn should not be boiled in salted water?

Table salt is not pure sodium chloride. It contains traces of other substances, including calcium, an element that can toughen the skin of corn kernels during cooking. That is why it's generally a good idea to let your guests salt their corn on the cob at the table. Not only can they suit their individual preferences and taste, but the corn will also be more tender.

In any event, the toughening effect of table salt is not as pronounced today as in decades gone by. Modern salt-processing techniques remove much of the calcium before the product reaches the supermarket shelf.

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05:54:16 on 10/01/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -