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12 Clever Tips To Help Make The Most Of Your Food

Make bitter coffee taste better and check whether eggs are rotten without cracking them open. Thanks to the American Chemical Society's "Reactions" video series for most of these tips.

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1. Add a tiny pinch of salt to coffee that's too bitter to sweeten it up.

If you brew your coffee with water that's too hot, you'll extract more bitter compounds leaving you with a less than ideal cup. But it doesn't have to go to waste – just add a tiny bit of salt. Sodium ions from the salt will stop you tasting the bitterness when the coffee reaches your tongue. Sounds counterintuitive, but it works.
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If you brew your coffee with water that's too hot, you'll extract more bitter compounds leaving you with a less than ideal cup. But it doesn't have to go to waste – just add a tiny bit of salt. Sodium ions from the salt will stop you tasting the bitterness when the coffee reaches your tongue. Sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

2. Keep your onions in the fridge to help stop the waterworks when you cut into them.

When you cut into an onion, it sets off a chain of events that ends in the production of syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which irritates your eyes and makes them water. You can't stop this, but you can slow down the release of the volatile compounds that make it happen by keeping your onion cold in the fridge before chopping it.
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When you cut into an onion, it sets off a chain of events that ends in the production of syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which irritates your eyes and makes them water. You can't stop this, but you can slow down the release of the volatile compounds that make it happen by keeping your onion cold in the fridge before chopping it.

3. Cook green veg for seven minutes or less to keep it looking bright and fresh.

This one sounds like common sense – but I bet you've never given a second thought to why cooking veg for less time keeps it greener.Here's the deal: Green vegetables get their hue from two different types of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll A is responsible for blue-green colours and chlorophyll B takes care of yellow-green. Each molecule of chlorophyll has a magnesium atom that, when the veg is heated up during cooking, gets replaced by a hydrogen atom. This means the veg loses its lovely green colour. You can stop this happening by cooking your veg for just a few minutes to limit the damage to cells.
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This one sounds like common sense – but I bet you've never given a second thought to why cooking veg for less time keeps it greener.

Here's the deal: Green vegetables get their hue from two different types of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll A is responsible for blue-green colours and chlorophyll B takes care of yellow-green. Each molecule of chlorophyll has a magnesium atom that, when the veg is heated up during cooking, gets replaced by a hydrogen atom. This means the veg loses its lovely green colour. You can stop this happening by cooking your veg for just a few minutes to limit the damage to cells.

4. Check whether eggs are rotten by putting them in a glass of water.

If they sink, you're good to go. If they float, throw them out. The American Chemical Society explains that eggs go bad because bacteria gets in from outside through their porous shells. This causes a build up of hydrogen sulfide, which is what makes rotten eggs smell, but, handily, it's also what makes them so buoyant.
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If they sink, you're good to go. If they float, throw them out. The American Chemical Society explains that eggs go bad because bacteria gets in from outside through their porous shells. This causes a build up of hydrogen sulfide, which is what makes rotten eggs smell, but, handily, it's also what makes them so buoyant.

5. To ripen up green bananas, put them in a paper bag with some tomatoes.

Ripe tomatoes release a hormone called ethylene that is used to ripen fruits commercially. When you put them in a closed bag with the bananas, the ethylene is trapped and will ripen the bananas quicker than they would ripen on their own.
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Ripe tomatoes release a hormone called ethylene that is used to ripen fruits commercially. When you put them in a closed bag with the bananas, the ethylene is trapped and will ripen the bananas quicker than they would ripen on their own.

6. To soften up hard cookies, put them in a sealed bag with a piece of bread.

Have your freshly-baked cookies gone hard because you left them out too long? Thankfully, the sugar in cookies is "hygroscopic", which means they pull in moisture from around them. Put them in a sealed tin or bag with a piece of bread, and they'll soften up by absorbing moisture from the much less sugary bread.
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Have your freshly-baked cookies gone hard because you left them out too long? Thankfully, the sugar in cookies is "hygroscopic", which means they pull in moisture from around them. Put them in a sealed tin or bag with a piece of bread, and they'll soften up by absorbing moisture from the much less sugary bread.

7. Use Coke to help clean up cast iron pans you left out far too long.

Coca-Cola and similar drinks contain phosphoric acid, which is also used industrially to help remove rust. It reacts with iron oxide (aka rust) to turn it into another chemical called ferric phosphate that you can clean off much more easily. You'll have a clean pan in no time.
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Coca-Cola and similar drinks contain phosphoric acid, which is also used industrially to help remove rust. It reacts with iron oxide (aka rust) to turn it into another chemical called ferric phosphate that you can clean off much more easily. You'll have a clean pan in no time.

8. Add salt to ice and water to chill drinks super quick.

If you add salt to a bucket of water you reduce the temperature at which it will freeze. This means that when you add ice, the surrounding water will get colder than it normally would do. Put your beers in the bucket so that they're fully submerged and they'll chill in no time at all.
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If you add salt to a bucket of water you reduce the temperature at which it will freeze. This means that when you add ice, the surrounding water will get colder than it normally would do. Put your beers in the bucket so that they're fully submerged and they'll chill in no time at all.

9. Poke a hole in the centre of a burger patty to get it evenly cooked throughout.

When you grill a burger on a barbecue you're witnessing something called the Maillard reaction between sugars and amino acids. This is the reaction that causes meat to brown and onions to caramelise. By poking a hole, you allow the heat to get into the centre of the burger quicker, so the centre gets cooked before the outside of the burger gets charred.
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When you grill a burger on a barbecue you're witnessing something called the Maillard reaction between sugars and amino acids. This is the reaction that causes meat to brown and onions to caramelise.

By poking a hole, you allow the heat to get into the centre of the burger quicker, so the centre gets cooked before the outside of the burger gets charred.

10. Use cling film or a layer of water over your guacamole to stop it browning.

Avocados contain molecules called phenols which, when exposed to oxygen in the air, turn into molecules called quinones. These quinones then join together and form the pigment melanin (yup, the same one you have in your skin) that will make your vibrant avocado-coloured dip quickly turn brown. Avocados actually contain an enzyme that speeds this whole process up.But if you stop the surface of your guacamole being exposed to the air, you can stop this happening. An easy way to do this is to cover it in a layer of water. It'll look gross, but the water won't mix with the guac, and it will stop your lovely dip browning. When you want to eat some more, just tip off the water and give the guacamole a mix. If you have cling film you can use that instead. Make sue you press it against the guacamole so there's no dip left exposed to the air.
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Avocados contain molecules called phenols which, when exposed to oxygen in the air, turn into molecules called quinones. These quinones then join together and form the pigment melanin (yup, the same one you have in your skin) that will make your vibrant avocado-coloured dip quickly turn brown. Avocados actually contain an enzyme that speeds this whole process up.

But if you stop the surface of your guacamole being exposed to the air, you can stop this happening. An easy way to do this is to cover it in a layer of water. It'll look gross, but the water won't mix with the guac, and it will stop your lovely dip browning. When you want to eat some more, just tip off the water and give the guacamole a mix.

If you have cling film you can use that instead. Make sue you press it against the guacamole so there's no dip left exposed to the air.

11. Drink your coffee between 9.30 and 11.30am for the biggest caffeine boost.

This one is less chemistry and more biology. If you want to get the maximum kick from your coffee, you should drink it when your natural level of stress hormone cortisol is dropping, according to Stephen Miller, a PhD Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He says most people’s cortisol levels peak between 8 and 9am, then again between noon and 1pm and 5.30 and 6.30pm.By drinking your coffee when you're coming down from your natural alertness peak, you'll feel it's effects more than if you'd drunk it earlier.
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This one is less chemistry and more biology. If you want to get the maximum kick from your coffee, you should drink it when your natural level of stress hormone cortisol is dropping, according to Stephen Miller, a PhD Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He says most people’s cortisol levels peak between 8 and 9am, then again between noon and 1pm and 5.30 and 6.30pm.

By drinking your coffee when you're coming down from your natural alertness peak, you'll feel it's effects more than if you'd drunk it earlier.

12. Keep beer in a dark place to stop it going funky.

"Skunking", when your beer tastes like a skunk has been at it, happens when beer is exposed to light. The hops in your beer contain something called isohumulone. When sunlight hits this chemical it gets broken up into free radicals that react with sulphur-containing molecules to create 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. This chemical is very similar to one in the spray a skunk uses to defend itself, and just a tiny bit of the stuff is detectable.Brown bottles help defend against skunking because they block light below a wavelength of 500nm. But green bottles let more light in, and clear bottles pretty much let it all in, so neither is very good at protecting your beer. The best way to stop your beer going funky is to keep it in the dark.
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"Skunking", when your beer tastes like a skunk has been at it, happens when beer is exposed to light. The hops in your beer contain something called isohumulone. When sunlight hits this chemical it gets broken up into free radicals that react with sulphur-containing molecules to create 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. This chemical is very similar to one in the spray a skunk uses to defend itself, and just a tiny bit of the stuff is detectable.

Brown bottles help defend against skunking because they block light below a wavelength of 500nm. But green bottles let more light in, and clear bottles pretty much let it all in, so neither is very good at protecting your beer. The best way to stop your beer going funky is to keep it in the dark.

H/T American Chemical Society