Why Those Viral Cooking Hacks Don't Always Work

If there's one thing guaranteed to catch the eye of someone who loves food and cooking, it's a beautifully shot video offering up an ingenious way to save time. And until the pandemic and the resulting shelter-in-place orders came around, few of us actually had the time to spend cooking up the amazing meals we dream of, while testing some of these food hacks along the way.

Unfortunately, food hacks aren't being viewed and shared because they work in the kitchen, but because they work in the world in which they inhabit — that of the internet and social media. Food scientist Ann Reardon, who has her own cooking channel, tells the BBC that these viral cooking hacks are the "fake news" of the baking world. "The reason why that works is that it [a cooking hack] is more clickable, and clickbait content is what is currently working on the YouTube algorithm, and it apparently also works on Facebook."

Some food hacks are dangerous

We'd be all right if the hacks just didn't work because all we would be dealing with are a potentially filthy kitchen and wasted ingredients. But some food hacks can actually be dangerous, like some of the shortcuts using condensed milk to make caramel, or making an omelet in a plastic bag. Reardon herself raises one that suggests using bleach to make strawberries white before eating them (via YouTube). While some hacks might seem like obvious fails, others need to be taken into a test kitchen and tried out before they're named, "the next best thing" (we're looking at you, Dalgona coffee and baked oats).

Reardon explained that she has no problem identifying potential fails from sure wins because of her degree in food science, which she says helps her become more aware of what properties certain ingredients have. For the rest of us, there is the same tool that most people use to distinguish fact from fake news: research. If it doesn't appear that anyone credible has kitchen-tested the hack and raved about it, chances are you're looking at a trick that will leave you seething and your kitchen, a mess.