Tag Archives: We Get Letters

We Get Letters v.33: The colors of ground beef

From the inbox comes a question from Bill:

Hi Kate.

Happy Birthday. I turned 40 this year too. Sigh.

I had a question that’s been bugging me lately. If you don’t know the answer, maybe one of your readers does.

You know how ground beef is nice and bright red when you first buy it, then it turns sort of grey after a day in the refridgerator? Or, sometimes you buy it, and when you break it apart, it’s red on the outside, but all grey inside?

What does this mean? Is it a sign that the beef has been sitting around too long? Or does it mean nothing?

I’ve also noticed that if I buy the more expensive ground beef from (for example) Creekstone Farms, it is much brighter red than the supermarket stuff. It *looks* more appetizing, and fresher. But is it, or is that just a trick of some kind?

Best Regards,

bill odonnell

Hi Bill! Thanks for the birthday wishes! After a week or so of being forty, I’ve decided that a person is only as old as they want to be, what with time being an illusion and all.

And yes, the above is simply a rationalization. Ahh, rationalizations- they’re better than sex.

Onto your questions about the color of ground beef. It shouldn’t surprise you that the answer to your question lies somewhere in science, specifically in biochemistry.

Fresh meat color depends upon something called myoglobin. Myoglobin is a water-soluble protein that stores oxygen for aerobic metabolism in the muscle. It consists of a protein portion and a nonprotein porphyrin ring with a central iron atom. It’s this iron atom is that concerns us when we want to discuss meat color.

The defining factors of meat color depends upon the oxidation state of the iron and which compounds are attached to the iron portion of the molecule.

Immediately after cutting into beef, it is quite dark – almost a deep purplish-red. As oxygen from the air comes into contact with the exposed meat surfaces it is absorbed and binds to the iron and the iron starts to oxidize and change colors. The surface of the meat blooms as myoglobin is oxygenated. Myoglobin, in an oxygenated state is called oxymyoglobin, and oxymyglobin has a pigment which gives beef its bright cherry red color. The more myglobin in the meat, the brighter color of red. As a general rule of thumb (meaning that there will be exceptions) the extensive myglobin in meat indicates one or two things.

1) The muscle from which the cut of meat was drawn was an active muscle. Remember that myoglobin stores oxygen for aerobic metabolism in the muscle. An inactive muscle would have less myoglobin. So if you have two three year old cows, and one was stuck in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations with no room to run around, and the other had access to pasture and was allow to graze and move about, it would be the latter cow that had more myoglobin.

2) Older cows would have more myoglobin than younger cows. And since CAFO’s don’t have older cows, they would not produce bright red cuts of meat.

So yes, a brighter red would, for the most part, indicate a non-CAFO cow and would likely have been treated better and fed better, resulting in a higher quality cut of meat. Now this is a general rule of thumb, and there may be exceptions.

But how does the meat turn brown? That same oxidation process which changed the myoglobin to oxymyoglobin will eventually cause the Myoglobin and oxymyoglobin to lose an electron which turns the pigment to a brown color and yields metmyoglobin.

So essentially brown meat is indicative of meat that has been exposed to a fair amount of oxygen, enough so that the color dominates the overall composition. In fact, myoglobin, oxymyoglobin and metmyoglobin all exist in some ratio or another. The color of the meat simply indicates which one is currently dominating.

One may ask if the oxidation process can be reversed, or at least slowed down. The answer is yes, and in 2004 some meat producers asked the USDA to permit the gassing of meat with Carbon Monoxide, with the idea that the meat producers would be able to sell the older cuts of meat that once looked brown but no longer do due to the Carbon Monoxide. Consumers generally distrust brown meat, and it wouldn’t sell as well. Luckily for us, many meat producers are discontinuing this practice.

But the thing is, the brown meat wasn’t a sign of bad meat, it was a sign that it had enough time to become oxidized to the point where metmyoglobin dominated the beef. It was less “fresh” than the cuts of meat that had only been exposed to oxygen long enogh to let the oxymyoglobin dominate.

In other words, brown meat is not necessarily bad meat. It’s just not fresh meat. The enemy of meat is not color, but time. The darker the brown, the more time it has been been exposed to oxygen, and the closer it’s getting to it’s “use by” date. Meat the color of a latte is likely edible. Meat the color of chocolate? Yeah, I’d pass on that.

So how do you tell if meat has gone bad? Well, if stored properly, the best indicator is the “sell by” date that should be on the label. If stored improperly, smell is a good indicator as well as any green tint that may be in the beef.

Hope this helps!

We Get Letters v.32: Cook’s Illustrated and Taste

Sweta writes in with a question about Cook’s Illustrated:


I have been reading your blog for a long time and really fo enjoy all the information i get from it.

I was wondering about what you thought of Cook’s illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen… Just curious, I have mixed feelings about them. I somehow dont buy their scientific take on cooking, maybe i’m just cynical. when i really everything they write it always gives me the feeling like its dumb science, either they water down everything for it to be appealing to the public which annoys me. but i know so many people who eat it up. I keep wondering if I am missing something.

Would love to know what u think of them and what do u think of their recipes… the few I’ve tried havent convinced me of their expertise.


Thanks for the kind words Sweta. As you were probably able to surmise, I do have an opinion on Cook’s Illustrated.

For our friends who do not live in the United States, Cook’s Illustrated is a bimonthly American cooking magazine that works on the premise of extensive recipe testing and gives very thorough write ups of said recipes. I can recall reading a brownie recipe that went on for three pages. The recipe itself was only a column, but the preamble to the recipe went into intricate detail on how they tried different recipes using different ingredients and techniques, all with the intent of developing and publishing the ultimate recipe for making brownies. It’s an approach that has worked very well for them, and they were able to parlay their success into a second magazine called Cook’s Country.

As for my own opinion, I have to start by explaining my point of view on food magazines – I’m typically not a big fan, although I do enjoy several of them from time to time.

However, I used to be a big fan of the food magazines, and I used to have regular subscriptions to several of them , including Gourmet, Food & Wine, Saveur, as well as Cook’s Illustrated. Eventually, I let all of the subscriptions lapse. Some I let lapse when I realized they were writing less about food and more about status and lifestyle. Others simply stopped holding my interest.

Why did I let Cook’s Illustrated lapse? I outgrew it.

I outgrew Cook’s Illustrated for two reasons. Firstly, their choices of recipes were (and presumably still are) focused on foods that their audience would reasonably be already familiar. This isn’t a slight against their magazine, and indeed makes good market sense. It’s easier to sell a magazine that has good recipes for apple pie, meatloaf and mashed potatoes than one that focuses on malfatti, choucroute garnie, or even mole poblano. My own food preferences, while having a healthy respect for mainstream foods, often reaches beyond them. I realized that more often than not, I was looking beyond Cook’s Illustrated for my recipes.

Secondly, when I did attempt their recipes, I found that I was altering them to fit my own taste. Sometimes it would be something as innocuous as adding additional chocolate chips, or adding more spices to the dish. Other times, I would think that the recipe was deficient in one way or another in regard to cooking times or the resulting texture of the dish. Once this occurred for the third or fourth time, I realized that a magazine cannot scientifically justify taste. There is no ultimate brownie recipe, or one perfect way to cook a steak. Why? Because taste is subjective, and what works for one person will not always work for someone else.

So once I found myself altering their recipes to fit my own tastes, I found a flaw in the magazine’s implied tenet. What I once thought was a great magazine had turned into merely a pretty good one. It was then that I realized that I had out grown their magazine.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad magazine. I think if a person is just starting out in the kitchen, or reacquainting themselves with cooking, Cook’s Illustrated is a great place to start. They have many helpful hints, decent product reviews, and most of all, show a dedication and respect towards food that I often find missing in most magazines that fall under the Condé Nast Publications masthead. But that same respect that they work so hard to instill in their readers ended up being the same respect that moved me beyond their demographic. And I’m very curious to hear if anyone has had the same experience that I had.

For the record, the magazines that I currently find myself migrating to at the newsstands include The Art of Eating, Gastronomica, and Saveur. I read these, not because I’m looking for recipes. Rather, I’m looking for context, and these provide that aspect better than most others.

Thanks for the question Sweta, and if you, or anyone else has a question that they would like to ask, feel free to e-mail me at Kate AT accidentalhedonist DOT com.

We get letters v.30: What are the “must visit food spots” in Seattle?

This popped into my inbox the other day. Tatiana wants to know where she should visit whilst in the Emerald City:


First I want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. It’s fun and spirited and entertaining.

Secondly, I want to tell you that I know you get a lot of these requests and I’m still going to ask… sorry. : )

I will be coming through town in the middle of July for a two day visit. I will be eating about 4 meals while I’m there and I’d like your suggestions.

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, leaning much more towards salt and spice and while ethnic food is wonderful, I’m not coming to Seattle for Vietnamese or Thai. Having said that though, we do not have a single good Mexican restaurant in Calgary so if there’s a taqueria out of this world – I’m in. I’m looking for the unique experience that you just can’t get anywhere else, something so uniquely Seattle that NOT to eat there would be a sacrilege. One item on my menu is Salumi. What else should I just not miss?

I really really appreciate your suggestions.


Tatiana K

Thank you for your e-mail Tatiana, as well as the compliments on the site.

I do get a fair amount of questions surrounding food recommendations in Seattle. So much so, that I’ve taken to creating a Google map that highlights fifteen different places close to downtown Seattle that are worth your time.

Keep in mind that this map was written with a tourists point of view in mind, rather than a traveler’s point of view or an obsessive food lover’s point of you. Some of the places are more for people watching and/or shopping rather than eating, so keep that in mind. I am working on a map designed for folks who are hard core into food, and several of the locations on the above map would be noticeably missing.

However, one item missing from the map that you’ve requested is that of a decent Mexican restaurant. The problem with that request is that finding great Mexican food in Seattle is like finding great Sushi in St. Louis – meaning that what is considered great Mexican in Seattle would only be considered passable in a Tucson.

Bearing that in mind, I’m recommending El Puerco Lloron at Pike Place Market (1501 Western Ave.). I’ve written about this place before (albeit indirectly), and it’s one of those “hit or miss” restaurants. People I’ve talked to either love the place or are indifferent to it. I don’t believe this is adequate enough to categorize it as “out of this world”. In my own opinion, it’s a step or two above the average Mexican place here in Seattle, but that’s somewhat of a low hurdle to overcome.

I hope this helps, and feel free to let me know if there are any other questions you would like to have answered.

We Get Letters v.29: Black Whiskey??

This came into the comments section, and was peculiar enough for me to bring it to the forefront.

Beverly writes:

My grand father bought a bottle of Johnny walker Red label 19 years ago and has been saving it for my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary and the whiskey has gone black, as far as we all know whiskey should not go black, we would like a explanation.

Hi Beverly. Thanks for posting your comment. I’ll see if I can reasonably respond to your question, or at least get another reader with more whiskey experience to give their opinion on your issue.

But first and foremost, I want to address a common misconception. Whiskey does not age in the bottle. What I mean by that is if you by a 10 year old whiskey, it means that you have a whiskey that has been aged in a barrel for ten years. If you hold on to that bottle for another twenty years, the whiskey is still technically considered a ten year old bottle of whiskey, and not thirty years old. You may already have known this, but I wanted to put it our there for other fans of whiskey.

Now, as to the color changing in your whiskey, I can only give you educated guesses. The coloring of every whiskey out there comes directly from the barrel in which it was aged. The longer the aging process, the more color the whiskey can draw from the barrel. As mentioned above, once the whiskey is removed from the barrel and bottled, the aging cycle essentially stops, and therefore the coloration should at least reduce and at most stop altogether. So my first thought is that what you have is a bottle that is a bit of an anomaly. i.e. it’s not common that this should happen.

It could be that your whiskey has been exposed to too much light and some of the particulates within the whiskey have been affected by that. This seems the most likely to me. Whether the particulates in your bottle are the same as every other bottle of Johnny Walker Red that had been sold 19 years ago is unknown.This this raises the second issue that there is the possibility that your bottled had been excessively tainted with resin and/or residue from the barrels from which your whiskey had aged. This seems unlikely, but not improbable.

The short answer is – I don’t know. My research into my private library and into several deep checks on the internet turned up anything useful. My guess is that the whiskey collectors out there can provide better answers and more first hand experience than I. Let’s hope one or two of them are reading today.

(UPDATE: I have an answer, five years later!  Hard water has a high amount of minerals, including iron. Iron is not a fan of several of the compounds found within the oils and other solubles that result from being aged in a cask.  When these are combined, a chemical reaction occurs which turns the coloring from tawny to black. Hence, black whiskey.
So how did the hard water get into the bottle? Either the whiskey was made with hard water (which is unlikely), or someone opened the bottle, had a nip or two, and replaced the whiskey with the hard water).

We get letters v.28: A Call for a Recipe

Kathy writes in looking for help:

I have been searching the net for a particular filling for pierogis for several days – unsuccessfully. My ancestry is Austrian and we call these kroppah. They are about 4x larger than pierogis. But, to my question….

My grandmother used to make a filling that used apples and graham crackers that, of course, she didn’t have a written recipe for. And, since she passed away about 30 years ago, it’s impossible to ask her. We’re putting together a family recipe book with 4 generations contributing and I’m the one coordinating it. None of the aunts can remember how she made the
apple/graham cracker filling.

Have you ever run across an apple/graham cracker filling? Thanks for reading this. Back to my searching.

I am unaware of no such recipes, but if anyone else out there knows an apple/graham cracker filling for pierogies, Kathy will be much appreciative.

Technorati Tags: pierogies, filling, stuffing

We Get Letters v. 27: The Final Whidbey’s Loganberry Liqueur?

For those who have never tried this drink, this post will mean very little. But Tara and I (as well as several other readers to this site) are quite fond of this liqueur, so I thought it relevant.

From the comments:

I just heard that Whidbey’s Loganberry Liqueur is no longer produced.

Is this true? I now live in Connecticut and Had sent a friend to buy more and send
it to me. I guest my last bottle was just that.

Any comments about how to buy more would be greatly appreciated.


Mike xxxxxx

I have called Chateau Ste. Michelle to verify if this is true, and they have confirmed that they are ceasing production of this Liqueur. The only way to get more is to stock up on any remaining bottles currently available at your state liquor store. No more orders are being filled, and back stock is probably limited if there is any at all.

If you live in the Seattle area, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s gift shop still has a few bottles remaining, but you have to pick up the bottles in person.

Double Drat. This liqueur mixed quite well with dark teas.

Technorati Tags: Loganberry Liqueur, Chateau Ste. Michelle Liqueur,

We Get Letters v. 26: How to temper Habeneros

This came in from my ex-coworker Mike, now living it up in St. Louis:

Hey Kate,

Here’s a question for you. We’re getting a bumper crop of Habaneros so I’ve been trying various sauce and canning recipes: Peach/raisin, Mango/ginger and Habanero oil.

In the past three days, I’ve sliced and dice about 30 habbies, washed my hands 10 times and still have a deep warming sensation in my finger tips.

Do you know a good way of neutralizing hot pepper juices?


The best way to deal with the sting of capsaicin is by using the protein casein, commonly found in various dairy products. Or to put it another way, if you cut habeneros, washing your hands in milk or yogurt (non-flavored, please) should do the trick.

If your skeptical about the bacteria count within said dairy products, wash your hands in a solution of 1quart water mixed with 1 tablespoon of bleach.

If you get capsaicin in your eyes, rinse with a saline solution, or plain water.

And send me some of that Mango/Ginger sauce, will ya?

UPDATE: Or, as Tom has noted in the comments – Wear latex gloves. Although it should be noted that many folks don’t have such items laying around their homes.

Technorati Tags: Food Hints, Capsaicin, Habenero Peppers