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Halacha (Jewish Law) tells us that when food is cooked in a pot, that pot absorbs the taste of that food (to what degree is impossible to know). When that pot is then used to cook something else, the taste that was previously absorbed in the pot is now released from the pot into the food. See here for more background information.

My question is, is this idea exclusive to halachic circles? For example, are there chefs who will never cook one type of food in a pot that was used to cook another type of food, because the taste mixture will ruin the cooking food? Alternatively, are there chefs who specifically choose to cook with certain pots because the flavors that have been previously absorbed in those pots enhance the food being cooked? (I remember a TV comedy that had a similar idea.)


I'm asking because I'm looking for a good analogy/example I can use to explain to non-jewish people why we need to do Hagala (purge flavor by boiling) on a non-Kosher pot before we can use it.

As a parallel, after I read this article, I started using allergies as an example of why just cleaning something is not enough. From the article:

“It’s heartbreaking,” he continues. “My wife and I are brought to tears regularly because Brianna can’t go to her little friends’ birthday parties and have cake and ice cream and everything that they get to have. We can’t really go out and have a meal anymore, because people at restaurants just aren’t aware enough of the severity of it and what it takes to cause a reaction. They don’t understand that if a surface was used to prepare something that had dairy in it, no matter how well you clean that surface, those proteins are still there. And if you prepare my daughter’s food there, she’s going to have a reaction.

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related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/26285/… –  Menachem Aug 15 '13 at 18:02
    
This question appears to be off-topic because it is about cooking in general, not about Judaism. –  Daniel Aug 15 '13 at 19:15
    
@Daniel, is this better? –  Seth J Aug 15 '13 at 20:49
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Perhaps try leaving a comment in the Seasoned Advice chat room. (Though the fact that they are the experts you seek does imply that this would do better migrated.) –  Double AA Aug 20 '13 at 3:21
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I saw your message in the SA chat, and have answered below for you as I would if the question were migrated. –  SAJ14SAJ Aug 20 '13 at 9:51

4 Answers 4

Most pots are intentionally made from materials that promote no (or trivially minimal) adhesion, and are not porous. Therefore, they will have no "memory" in the culinary sense.

While cast iron pots are somewhat porous, when properly seasoned, the layer of polymerized lipids completely seals the metal surface, and so in practice they are not porous. One might argue that the seasoning itself is a memory from previous uses, and this is probably true in some very strict sense, in practice it is quite neutral: it is just charred or smoky if it has any flavor at all.

There is one case where it is possible for a pot to have a memory: unlined earthenware pots such as a tagine are porous. They could retain some tiny amount of previous dishes. Still, proper maintenance and treatment of the clay pot (soaking in water before using, then wiping the inside with oil) minimize the effect.


With the possible and limited exception of earthenware pots, there is no culinary reason to purge pots, or suspect that they have some sort of memory. Pots are chosen for their thermal properties, whether they are non-stick, size, weight, and convenience factors (among other things), not for what dish was last made in them.

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Yes and No. Most pots and dishes today do not actually absorb flavors. However, cast iron pots, are very famous for keeping the flavors of what is cooked in them, and some people say that certain recipes can not be duplicated, because of the use of the family cast iron cookware.

Traditional Southern cooks sometimes have one skillet for cooking cornbread, another for fried fish, and another for fried chicken, to keep the flavors separate. But as Mark Kelly, spokesman for cast iron manufacturer Lodge, says, “In American culture, a lot of people are into the ‘purity’ of things. But you never get 100 percent purity, no matter what you do.” Many fans of cast iron cooking see the little bit of extra flavor infused in your dish from past meals as a big selling point of cast iron. We use the same cast iron skillet for Chilaquiles, which contain onion, garlic, and chiles, as we do for our Upside-Down Banana-Coffee Tart, and discern no clashing tastes (check out the recipes at the top of the page for more options). If you cook fish in your pan, you can rub kosher salt on the surface to get it extra-clean. source

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Chaim Jachter writes:

As a student I wondered whether the “taste particles” (Bliot) that the Gemara and the Poskim refer to, are physical entities or metaphysical entities. I posed the question to two Gedolim. Rav Aharon Soloveitchik told me that Bliot are a physical entity whereas Rav J. David Bleich told me that he thought that they were a metaphysical entity.

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Many Chinese chefs claim that their food is enhanced by using aged woks. That is to say, even though they are usually cleaned after each meal, the wok retains the accumulated flavors. Hot Dog fans also say that franks purchased at. Nathan's in Coney Island have a unique flavor due to the continuous use of the grills despite being cleaned daily. So yes, there are some who believe the utensil maintains flavor despite frequent cleaning. I suppose if this is true of non-kosher foods, it would also be true for kosher. As far as scientifically proving the theory, I imagine it would be possible due to the fact that one could easily develop a method of testing how clean a pan is. they could also analyze a sample to see if there is any organic material (in this case food.) But what science can't measure is subjective taste. That is what faith is.

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Woks are seasoned much like cast iron that I mentioned in my answer; the flavor you speak of is called 'wok hei' and is a result of the carbonization at high temperature of some of that seasoning. As to the Nathan's issue, it might be possible for the dogs later in the day to taste better as the grill becomes coated with fat and flavor throughout the day, but if properly cleaned, the next day would be a fresh start--at least for practical culinary purposes. –  SAJ14SAJ Aug 20 '13 at 11:46
    
Thanks for the info re wok hei. As far as Nathan's, your point is the point. Despite all the scraping and cleaning fans of the Coney Island dog swear that no other branch of the franchise has the same flavor. The companies says all the branches use the same product. Lovers of the Nathan's hot dog say so. Experts say so as the Stillwell Avenue dog is often sited as one of best hot dogs anywhere. Which, I suppose, still doesn't prove one way or another that the grills still retain the flavor after cleaned! I wonder if anyone ever did a blind taste test. –  JJLL Aug 20 '13 at 12:06
    
Well, even without faith, I agree belief and brand awareness is highly persuasive in food culture. I suspect that explains the Nathan's issue, and that there would be little or no difference in blind tastings. –  SAJ14SAJ Aug 20 '13 at 12:07
    
I think you are right. I sometimes buy diet frozen concoctions (don't even know what they technically are). I sometimes have to glance at the label to remind myself that I am suppose to be eating chocolate peanut butter or cherry or whatever. It is not only the flavor but power of suggestion. –  JJLL Aug 20 '13 at 12:15

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