The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The raging sea (salt) controversy

After reading Adam Gopnik's The Table Comes First, I set out to track down some of the received ideas that Gopnik appears to parrot, uncritically. Here's the genesis of one, his assertion that Cook's Illustrated, the magazine of aggressive culinary mediocrity run by Chris Kimball, said that "all salt tastes alike."

They did not, in fact, say this. What they did was run a poorly designed tasting, with preconceived notions, and impose their bias on the results. This is the crux of it:

"Of the five tests run, we uncovered the most profound differences in our beef tenderloin test. Tasters loved the crunch of the large sea salt flakes or crystals when sprinkled over slices of roast tenderloin. Why did the sea salts win this test? Large crystals provided more pleasing sensory stimulation than fine table salt. In fact, tasters really objected to fine salts sprinkled on the beef, calling them "harsh" and "sharp." Tasters did like kosher salt on meat, but not as much as sea salts, which have larger crystals.

Does this mean that our tasters were reacting to the additives in table salt that the chefs had warned us about? It's possible, but given the results in our other tests, we are not convinced. It's hard to sprinkle fine-grained sea or table salt evenly over meat, and we think tasters may have been hitting pockets with a lot of salt and reacting negatively."

No, what it means is that the magazine's baked-in prejudice in favor of mass-market products, which shows up again and again in its content, was not borne out by what its tasters told them. So they editorialized. So Gopnik misinterpreted bad science. This is how we come to believe things that are neither true nor helpful.

Here at Domaine Sainte Melange de Berger, we are now conducting a slightly more rigorous test, over time and as samples come in, which we will publish when there's a bit more data.

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