The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:05 AM
Stefan moss Stefan moss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
do potatoes absorb excess salt in food?

I was speaking to an old wife, and she told me an old wives tale. Well actually it was my little sister, but she is engaged, so thats almost the same.

Anyway she claims that if, while cooking, u have over salted (say a stew), the best solution to remove/reduce the salt is to u add raw potatoes to the cooking food and it will absorb salt very effectively?

Please do tell, any feedback welcome

I have read about and tried adding sugar, but u do end up with a subtle sweet n sour thing going on, and besides theres still too much salt in your food. Bad for your health.
However if u do take the sugar route the infamous "they" say to use brown sugar

I did also read this on another site, my favourite post:


Recapping: The trouble with adding water to the stew to make it less salty is that the stew will become watery; The trouble with adding potatoes or silica gel to absorb salt, and then removing the potatoes or silica gel, is that they will remove ingredients other than water and salt, thus altering the flavour of the stew.

The solution then, to counter the effect of the salt, must be to add additional quantities of *all* of the other ingredients. This will neutralise the salt, but have the side effect of producing much more stew than originally required, which in turn, can be solved by inviting me round to dinner.
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:10 AM
Skammer Skammer is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Music City USA
Posts: 12,759
The final solution is the only one I know will work -- add more of everything else.

Silica gel? In your food? Yechh.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:11 AM
Claire Beauchamp Claire Beauchamp is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Potatoes do not absorb enough salt to make a difference when something has been oversalted. This is indeed an old wives tale that has been disproven, by Cook's Illustrated at least if not others.

The only way to really fix something that has been oversalted (or that is too spicy) is to make another batch without the overdone ingredient and combine the two.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:14 AM
Gary T Gary T is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 9,539
Sorry I don't have a cite, or even the name of the person quoted, but I recently read an article about an innovative and accomplished chef who said the one thing that was impossible to rectify was too much salt.

So yeah, double the rest of the ingredients and have someone over for dinner.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:19 AM
Harmonious Discord Harmonious Discord is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
As for doubling the ingredients and mixing them in, that doesn't always work. Sometimes you have to know when to throw out what you have and start over. Cut your loses. Potatoes won't remove the salt.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:26 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
They would "do it".

The question is HOW much would they do it?

I suspect something just a little oversalted that had 50 percent by volume potatoes put in it would be fixed. Something way over salted, a few potatoes put in? probably not gonna work well.

If you had an expensive and time critical dish, you could probably throw a bunch of potatoes in there and save the day, removing the potatoes for use elsewhere later....everyday problems...not so much.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 08-14-2009, 11:51 AM
lobotomyboy63 lobotomyboy63 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
My long-term solution is to use kosher salt in the first place. It's a lot harder to oversalt with it. I think when you use ordinary table salt, what you end up tasting too much of is the iodine in it.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 08-14-2009, 12:29 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
The old wives tale about adding more potatoes is just a version of "make more stew" except that someone along the way got confused and thought they could remove the potatoes.

Dried pasta is a slightly better option than potatoes - pasta absorbs water and salt. You can then add some extra water to replace what was absorbed without getting a watery stew. But here the trick is that the pasta is removing water that happens to have salt, not that it's selectively removing salt.

For proof that neither pasta nor potatoes are really removing much salt from a cooking liquid, just try cooking them in salted water and taste the water afterward. Yep, still salty.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 08-14-2009, 05:03 PM
Cleophus Cleophus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
There's no way this could work. Osmosis would cause water to enter or leave the potato cells, but the salt ions stay in the soup. Either the cells have a higher solute concentration than the soup, and water goes into the potato cells, or the potatoes have a lower solute concentration than the soup and water comes out into the soup. Ions just don't diffuse across cell membranes on their own.

The potatoes might soak up water as a sponge, but the salt will go along with the water and not change anything either.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 08-14-2009, 05:04 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: NE Ohio (the 'burbs)
Posts: 22,956
Yeah, my mother told me about potatoes removing salt, and also told me to eat bread while cutting onions. In spite of this, she was an excellent cook.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 08-14-2009, 05:25 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cleophus View Post
There's no way this could work. Osmosis would cause water to enter or leave the potato cells, but the salt ions stay in the soup. Either the cells have a higher solute concentration than the soup, and water goes into the potato cells, or the potatoes have a lower solute concentration than the soup and water comes out into the soup. Ions just don't diffuse across cell membranes on their own.

The potatoes might soak up water as a sponge, but the salt will go along with the water and not change anything either.

I was thinking the osmosis process would work, of course I was thinking salt ions going into the potato cells to equalize the concentration, which WOULD help.

But, now that you mention it, yeah, most very likely its going to be the water doing all the moving around to equalize the concentration, and that aint gonna help at all
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 08-14-2009, 07:08 PM
johnpost johnpost is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cleophus View Post
There's no way this could work. Osmosis would cause water to enter or leave the potato cells, but the salt ions stay in the soup. Either the cells have a higher solute concentration than the soup, and water goes into the potato cells, or the potatoes have a lower solute concentration than the soup and water comes out into the soup. Ions just don't diffuse across cell membranes on their own.
Quote:
Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
But, now that you mention it, yeah, most very likely its going to be the water doing all the moving around to equalize the concentration, and that aint gonna help at all
water coming out of the taters would help dilute the concentration of the salt, though it would be very small amount. the best source of the volume of water to dilute the salt would be the tap. closer to the question of adding a food item to help then cucumber or watermelon would add more water than taters.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 08-15-2009, 05:52 AM
Stefan moss Stefan moss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
pasta to absorb salt, hmm

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoi View Post
The old wives tale about adding more potatoes is just a version of "make more stew" except that someone along the way got confused and thought they could remove the potatoes.

Dried pasta is a slightly better option than potatoes - pasta absorbs water and salt. You can then add some extra water to replace what was absorbed without getting a watery stew. But here the trick is that the pasta is removing water that happens to have salt, not that it's selectively removing salt.

For proof that neither pasta nor potatoes are really removing much salt from a cooking liquid, just try cooking them in salted water and taste the water afterward. Yep, still salty.
That's an interesting solution for slight over salting. Perhaps rice would be even better (Im guessing its more (salt)water absorbant)? Since either would allow you to add more unsalted water to the stew.
However I am guessing other flavours would also be leached. Leading you to have to add more of other herbs and spices. Go easy on the salt mind you.

The rice/pasta could be put in a gauze bag so that you could fish it out after... What say you dope oracle?
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 08-15-2009, 07:39 AM
Stefan moss Stefan moss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Cooks illustrated

Cook's debunked the potato idea:

POTATOES TO THE RESCUE?
Popular kitchen lore holds that a few chunks or slices of raw potato will absorb excess salt from an overseasoned soup or stew. Is this true? To find out, we oversalted several pots of chicken stock to varying degrees, removed samples, then added raw potatoes and simmered until they were tender. After discarding the potatoes, we held a blind taste test to see if we could discern any difference in the salt levels. We could not. To be sure, we tested the stocks with a sodium probe and found little difference. Common sense supports these results: A potato may soak up a small quantity of the salty liquid, but it is powerless to reduce the overall concentration of salt in the liquid.


The do offer the following:
Too salty? Add an acid or sweetener, such as vinegar; lemon or lime juice; canned, unsalted tomatoes; sugar, honey, or maple syrup.

For more, check out Recipe Rescue
-Kurt



Posted: 5/10/2009 8:18 PM #284403

OldGuyinKitchen

Member

Total Posts:555
Last Post:8/14/2009
Member Since:7/4/2008
Welcome to the forum.
Sorry, regardless of which old wives tale you read, there is NOTHING you can do to eliminate the radio of salt in a solution EXCEPT to dilute it. The "potato trick" claims to remove salt, but all it does is absorb some of the salty liquid which puts you in a position to add more liquid. You can accomplish the same thing by simply pouring off some of your liquid and replacing it with more - hence; it's diluted.
One way to handle the problem you describe is to repeat the recipe without adding any salt and combining it with the initial recipe - that's will cut the salt solution per volume by half.
If the amount of salt you added is far and away too great (more than twice the recipe amount) and you can't double the recipe to bring it back into line, AND if the liquid sauce for the beans (or whatever) isn't crucial to the dish, just pour off the liquid and replace it with fresh unsalted liquid and cook the dish a bit longer to dilute the salt that the food has absorbed into the solution as a whole.
Once salt, or any water soluble ingredient, has broken down into solution it can ONLY be removed by dilution.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 08-15-2009, 08:46 AM
drachillix drachillix is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Overseasoning of any kind can often be assisted by taking a portion of the dish and rinsing breifly in water then returning the stuff to the pot and mixing it back in.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 08-15-2009, 08:58 AM
Quartz Quartz is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Home of the haggis
Posts: 20,140
I'd suggest that 'removing salt' isn't quite the right phrase. 'Removing the taste of the salt' would be better and I've seen this done. Just a week ago, my mother was cooking a soup and asked me to taste it. She'd over-salted it. I said so (politely), so she put in an already-cooked potato and the soup turned out delicious.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 10-04-2011, 09:52 AM
Anpadh Anpadh is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Potatoes and Salt

I guess it depends on how you cook. If you cook using only oil and no water, and you over-salt your food just a little, then throwing in a potato and adding some water WILL remove the excess salt. This is assuming that you taste your food early in the cooking process (well before the food is fully cooked).

Obviously, if you put one potato into a hundred quarts of water with ten kilos of salt in it, the potato will make no difference to the saltiness.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 10-04-2011, 10:57 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 35,710
Simple solution: don't add salt when cooking.
__________________
"East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does."
Purveyor of fine science fiction since 1982.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 10-04-2011, 01:58 PM
Enilno Enilno is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2010
Potatos may not work, but what about dialysis tubing. It'll filter out small molecules like salts while leaving the larger proteins and starches behind. Just add more water to dilute the remainder. Might work for a stew.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 10-05-2011, 02:43 AM
Becky2844 Becky2844 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
That's what my cookbook says, to throw in some raw potatoes.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:00 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.