Searing Meat Seals in Its Juices (and other food myths)

Status: Urban Legend
I know a lot of people who swear by the notion that you have to sear meat "to seal in its juices." But I've always thought the idea was a bit far-fetched (though I agree that meat is best cooked hot and fast), so it pleased me to read, in a review of Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food, that most food experts agree that it is indeed an urban legend that searing meat will seal in its juices.'s barbeque expert agrees:

By definition, searing is to cook something hot and fast to brown the surface and to seal in the juices. Yet many of the leading cooking experts agree that searing does not seal in juices. Frankly the idea that you can somehow melt the surface of the meat into a material that holds in all the juices seems a little strange to me. But whether you believe searing seals in juices or not, a great cut of meat needs hot, dry heat to caramelize or brown the surface to give it that great flavor.

The same review of Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food lists a number of other food myths. For instance:

MSG Causes Headaches (aka Chinese Restaurant Syndrome): "Jeffery Steingarten, food editor of the Vogue in New York, debunked this myth pretty comprehensively. Given the widespread use of MSG in China, he asked why weren’t there a billion Chinese people with headaches? He then went around relentlessly researching the theory in his characteristically thorough way, and came to the conclusion that MSG, taken in normal quantities, was perfectly safe." (I know many people who swear they get headaches after eating MSG, so I'm reluctant to accept this as an urban legend. But some quick research reveals that a controlled study at Harvard University also concluded that MSG in food doesn't cause headaches.)

Croissants were invented during the 1529 Siege of Vienna, when a baker who foiled a Turkish plan to breach the city's walls was rewarded by being given a royal licence to produce crescent-shaped pastries: "Davidson debunks this romantic legend and informs us that in fact, the first reference to croissants did not appear until 1891, more than two centuries after the siege of Vienna."

In the Middle Ages spices were used to mask the flavor of spoiled meat: "Davison cites Gillian Riley to rubbish the notion... Indeed, in pre-refrigeration days, we had assumed that the role of spices and heavy sauces was to conceal the fact that meat had spoiled. Riley makes the valid point that in those days, spices were far too expensive to be used for this purpose."

Chop Suey was invented by a Chinese restaurant in California which threw together odds and ends ('chop suey' in Chinese) as a meal for drunken miners: "according to Anderson, quoted by Davidson, chop suey is a local dish from Toisan, a rural district south of Canton. In Cantonese, its name is tsap seui, meaning 'miscellaneous scraps'."

Food Urban Legends

Posted on Mon Sep 26, 2005


Were these so-called MSG experts in the pay of certain drug companys or the FDA?

I don't know about much of the rest of this stuff, but I do know that MSG does cause headaches and I know why

MSG is put in food because if tells the brain that it likes the food, making it addictive.

MSG is an excitotoxin(sp), it excites the brain cells making them fire until they die

There is a natural defence though. B6 will protect the body against MSG.

Perhaps these 'experts' tested it on people with high B6 levels.

One final word every time I've had MSG I've gotten a headache unless I've prepped myself with B6 first.
This goes back to before I even knew MSG was the cause.

Sorry I had to vent, cos hearing that something I suffer from is supposed to be bullshit is bullshit.
Posted by Sharruma  in  capable of finishing a coherent  on  Mon Sep 26, 2005  at  11:53 AM
Perhaps the chinese have a lot of B6 in their diets
Posted by Sharruma  in  capable of finishing a coherent  on  Mon Sep 26, 2005  at  11:54 AM
There's some discussion about whether or not MSG causes headaches over at (the site promotes the idea that msg causes a whole host of problems.) One comment on its discussion board was interesting:

MSG is not the "death" compound you think it is. MSG is an additive that has been used for centuries without any recorded problems. It wasn't until 1908 when it was finally isolated from seaweed. Moreover, most clinical trials, including some double-blind trials, have failed to find any symptoms arising from consumption of MSG, even large amounts, when taken with food. However, when taken without the presence of food (in raw form) there was a slight increase in symptoms of the MSG compared to the placebo (a placebo is a sugar pill used in psychological studies to make the subject think they are taking something they aren't). Yes, people can be MSG-sensitive; perhaps it's a deficiency of Vitamin B6. It is clinically proven that after taking 50 mg of vitamin b6 every day, eight out of nine people who were "MSG-sensitive" were no longer affected by it.

Personally, I avoid msg because I think that it's just like salt--too much of it is definitely unhealthy. In fact, until I posted this entry, I had never realized that msg had its defenders.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Mon Sep 26, 2005  at  01:04 PM
I find that the best way to seal in the juices of meat is to spray the cut of meat all over with polyurethane. Two or three coats and she's ship-shape and tight as a drum.

tongue rolleye
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Sep 26, 2005  at  03:39 PM
I love MSG. Glad to hear someone is trying to get at the facts about it, whatever they may be.
Posted by Steph  on  Mon Sep 26, 2005  at  05:20 PM
Two things I have to stay away from, sulfites and MSG. One causes me to have a blasting headache followed two days later by migraine and the other causes pain throughout my body if I ingest it. On the other hand, given that in China, MSG has been used for a couple of centuries, the local population may just have become immune to whatever causes the headache.

"MSG Causes Headaches (aka Chinese Restaurant Syndrome): "Jeffery Steingarten, food editor of the Vogue in New York, debunked this myth pretty comprehensively."

Spoken just like the local doctor that was convinced that migraine headaches do not exist and that anyone suffering from them was just a malingerer. He has been pretty badly debunked over the last decade.
Posted by martinelli  on  Mon Sep 26, 2005  at  07:42 PM
"In Cantonese, its name is tsap seui, meaning 'miscellaneous scraps'."

So, this one isn't a myth. I would consider "miscellaneous scraps" to be "odds and ends". Maybe the feeding it to drunk miners is a myth...but that doesn't seem like the point.

I heard about "searing in juices", but after trying it a few times, it's obvious that juices DO leave your meat WHILE SEARING. I think it just sort of starts the cooking process and it's able to cook more quickly in the oven. And I can't remember what it's called, but I used the scrapings in the bottom of my pan to help with the gravy.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  05:40 AM
...And my husband is alergic to MSG, he throws up if he eats it and his face gets rashy. I never asked if he had a headache after...I didn't want to get puke on me.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  05:47 AM
I do believe MSG causes trouble. There is one Indonesian food restaurant here in town which uses gracious amounts of it. If I eat their food, I am sure that I will dream bizarrely that night (almost like I am tripping), sweat over my whole body, and the next day will feel like I have a very bad hangover. I only have it with the food of that particular restaurant (I eat a lot of Indonesian food elsewhere without trouble). I do think it is the MSG. Note that when I first encountered this problem, I was not aware of MSG's reputation at all.
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  05:57 AM
LaMa, maybe they're adding LSD to their food. hmmm
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  07:41 AM
MSG is put in food because if tells the brain that it likes the food, making it addictive.

Er, only in the way that sugar or salt tell the brain that it likes the food - i.e. by stimulating your taste buds. Glutamate is a naturally occuring amino acid, so MSG adds the "umami" taste associated with high protein foods.

Glutamate is used as a neurotransmitter, and so in large quantities it may act as an "excitotoxin", yes, but that you can achieve this effect by eating MSG (rather than having an epileptic fit or something) seems doubtful,
Posted by Ben  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  08:20 AM
Quote - "Given the widespread use of MSG in China, he asked why weren
Posted by azog  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  08:52 AM
If MSG really does cause headaches, it should be easy to verify with a properly designed scientific study. As we have learned in the Lifewave thread, personal anecdotal evidence means nothing.

I think I'll take a look at that Harvard study.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  11:26 AM
"In the Middle Ages spices were used to mask the flavor of spoiled meat"

It has always been my understanding spices were used to improve the taste of bland food common during this time.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Tue Sep 27, 2005  at  11:28 AM
...I don't understand the one with spices...maybe SPICE from other places weren't used. But I'm sure people knew their local flora, and could pull some basil or parsley up out of the ground. Parsley isn't a spice, but it's an herb...I'm sure those types of things weren't overlookd.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Wed Sep 28, 2005  at  05:37 AM
The still-existing recipies from the middle ages don't support the idea that the food was bland.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Wed Oct 05, 2005  at  05:06 PM
Chop Suey is not an original Chinese recipe. Chop suey is an American recipe concocted by Americans to feed the Chinese immigrants. The tsap seui is a totally different thing although it can occassionally be similar to Chop suey since it is made from leftovers.
Posted by Ho Bin Lee  in  On holiday in the Philippines  on  Tue Nov 08, 2005  at  01:43 PM
I really did never understand the idea of spices covering meat's having spoiled, as surely eating spoiled meat was to be regretted, no matter how nice it tasted.
But I would like to know why the spice trade was SO important. There are more people with more disposable income today, yet spices aren't made a real big deal.
Posted by hoaxinghal  on  Wed Nov 09, 2005  at  08:54 AM
About spices and meat in the Middle Ages.

First of all, spices became common when edible lokal herbs were added to food (soup, bread, ) for variation in tastes.

Meat from domesticated animals in the Middle Ages didn't differ much from todays meat, although the quality was less constant, it depended on how well you could feed your animals.

But refrigerators didn't exist, so they used to prevent their meat from rotting with techniques such as drying, smoking and salting. With those techniques, however, meat loses most of its original taste. So when you take the (not rotten) meat out of the chimney or barrel, it requires some flavor, hence the herbs/spices.
Posted by FrostBird  in  The Old World  on  Fri Dec 30, 2005  at  08:57 AM
MSG is a refined form of free glutimate. Free glutimate is found in seaweed, tomatoes, parmesan cheese and various other foods. If someone is truly sensitive to MSG, are they not also sensitive to these other foods?

MSG headaches are largely psycho sematic. You have a head ache because you're afraid of your food. You have a head ache because your mum/magazine/girlfriend/naturopath/etc... told you to have a head ache when you eat food with MSG in it. I'm sure, like with all things, too much can be a bad thing, but in moderation, it cannot be as evil as some hypochondriacs make out.

Upon reading Jeffrey Steingarten, I felt liberated from a life time of food phobias. I would recommend his book to anyone who wishes to have an adult relationship with their food, and embrace food as a friend, rather than a feared foe.
Posted by Em  in  Under a rock  on  Wed Jan 18, 2006  at  03:14 AM
I have had terrible migrains for years (not psycho sematic wishy washy crap) that have recently cleared up almost entirely now that I avoid msg. My reaction occers 12 hours after eating this garbage. I still get an occasional hit, as I'm still learning all of the labels they hide this poison behind.
Posted by Normo  in  NC  on  Sun Feb 05, 2006  at  09:37 PM
I've been having TERRIBLE head-exploding headaches the past several days. I tried identifying the cause without much success until I realized that I've been snacking on a new brand of tortilla chip. I then discovered that one of the main ingredients in it is MSG. I've had problems with MSG many times before...and have avoided it whenever possible. This will teach me to read the ingredients on every snack item from now on! I know for a fact that MSG may cause headaches in certain people. Strange that no one seems to know why ot they simply dismiss it as the culprit!
Posted by Ed S.  in  Abingdon, MD  on  Fri Dec 01, 2006  at  11:50 AM
Actually there have been many studies which indicate that MSG may have a link with brain cancer. This is why MSG is banned in both Australia and the US. Perhaps the Asian population is not as affected due to slightly different brain proteins compared with other races. This research has not yet been published but is in the works. The results look promising but still have far to go. Will keep updated.
Posted by kathrin  on  Thu Dec 14, 2006  at  05:34 AM
MSG is not banned in the UK, so I still come across it in Chinese food. Unfortuntely, I have a gluten intolerance, and didn't realise MSG could trigger it until, having stayed gluten free for some months, I had a Chinese, and got the same old symptoms - racing heart, soaring temperature, thumping headache, all kinds of bizarre things happening in my gut. And it's such a shame, because I really love Chinese food and that place had the best lemon chicken I've ever tasted....
Posted by Nona  in  London  on  Tue Mar 13, 2007  at  07:00 AM
Interesting articles, though many of the comments just made me laugh, especially regarding MSG. Personally, I've found MSG to be totally evil and vile: Every time I eat rusty nails covered in MSG, it rips up my insides and I spit up blood for days..

Sarcasm aside.. tongue laugh

There are MANY things that may cause (or suppress) these reported reactions (or lack of), and even careful scientific studies cannot always be accurate and properly ferret it out. Else why don't we have a cure for cancer? Why do we still know so little about our own bodies systems? Heck, at one time, it was considered scientific fact that the Earth was flat and the Sun and stars rotated above and below.

While I certainly agree some people may have a poor reaction to large amounts of MSG, it could also be psychosomatic hysteria, or any other of many ingredients and complexes used in the preparation of various foods, or even simply using *too much*.. Indeed, many vitamins, minerals and complexes *required* for healthy operation of the human body, are downright deadly when taken improperly or in excess.

There's also a lot of variation among humans--YOU may suffer adversely from high MSG foods, but I do not, nor do I personally know anyone else who has adverse reactions to MSG. (And I, and all the people I know that I can think of off-hand, avoid MSG in general, so it's not even a case of "acclimatization," either.)

Just some food for thought. grin
Posted by Satan  in  Hell  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  07:34 AM
I am always glad to see this discussed, and to finally see people debunking the hysteria surrounding MSG. To echo an earlier post, please check out Jeffrey Steingarten's 'The Man Who Ate Everything' and read his very informed thoughts on the MSG subject.

If you do, indeed, have a hardcore reaction to MSG, perhaps you have a larger problem, which could be some sort of reaction to Glutamates in general - including foods such as tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, anything that has an Umami flavor profile. Umami flavor comes from glutamates.

You will feel nasty if you eat too much salt at one sitting as well!
Posted by Jason  on  Tue Dec 25, 2007  at  12:35 PM
I cooked some mushrooms and vegetables for a meal last night with a Chinese sauce.
This is the first time i have used a store bought sauce.
Woke up this morning with a splitting headache.
Never had a headache in my life in the morning.
Checked the ingrediants on the jar........MSG.
Coincidence or not? Somehow i don't think so.
Posted by barry  in  uk  on  Sun Jan 13, 2008  at  11:08 AM
Barry, I understand your concern, but this is anecdotal and could very well be a coincidence. Empirical data so far points to this not being the case.

If you're concerned about having a sensitivity to glutamates, perhaps you should consult with a physician.
Posted by Jason  on  Sun Jan 13, 2008  at  12:02 PM
It's hilarious how MSG is considered "evil" because *SOME* people (supposedly) have had bad reactions to it. Jane Austen-inspired movies make me wanna vomit; she must be the devil. Cedar gives me a headache; let's cut down all the trees! I feel sorry for people who think they have to live without Sesame Chicken just because they had too much Tsingtao beer and hot mustard with their combo platter and woke up feeling like poop. Now, thanks to some random people's experiences, they are convinced they're also "MSG-sensitive"...

(Besides, if it's from China, the REAL culprit is probably the lead in the food coloring, not the MSG, silly!)
Posted by Sum Yung Guy  in  Pagodaville, USA  on  Sat Feb 23, 2008  at  03:32 PM
I am a research chef based in Chicago, and I have done extensive research on MSG, both as a naturally-occurring substance and as a food additive. Let me make this as simple as possible.



There is no correlation between MSG and "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". This does not mean that you are imagining your symptoms. True, a very low percentage of those who have this issue are in fact suffering from a placebo effect, but there are lots of other compounds in these foods which are the real culprits. MSG has been demonized by the press and food activists and is thus being used as a scapegoat. In reality, the "symptoms" are caused by a number of factors.

A few examples: Soy sauce and other fermented ingredients commonly used in these cuisines contain histamines, which are by-products of the fermentation process. Histamines can cause headaches and are found in most naturally fermented products, including wine and beer - hello, hangover! Soy protein (found in tofu, edamame, soy sauce, miso, saitan, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, etc.) can cause gas, bloating, and loose stool if it is not a regular part of your diet, as the enzymes needed to break it down are not produced by your body if you don't consume it regularly. Then it ferments in your digestive system, causing even more histamines to be released. This may be responsible for the 12-hour delay often noted between consuming the food and headache.

The real tragety of MSG is an environmental and humanitarian one. A good portion (200,000 tons per year) of the world's MSG is manufactured by the Lianhua coroporation in a plant located on the Huai river basin, where hundreds of people have died and continue to die due to the horrible pollution the plant (and others) dump into the river. Here is a link:
Posted by Stephen  on  Mon Feb 25, 2008  at  08:25 AM
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