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In every recipe I see for fries, popcorn, churros, and other foods where I normally want to add the salt/sugar/seasoning at the end, everybody says to make sure to do it while the food is still hot so the seasoning sticks. Why is this? Is this just something people say, or does it really matter a lot?

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It's really not about temperature at all.

"While it's still hot" is a great description of when to do it, but it's not why.

You want to salt fried food when it's straight from the oil, because the surface is still wet with oil. This ensures that the salt sticks to the surface of the food. As the food sits, the surface will dry (it cools off at the same time-- which is where the "while it's hot" advice comes from).

Even with non-fried foods, heat often comes with surface moisture, either from the cooking process or from the steam being released by the hot food.

Salt sticks to "wet" surfaces. Freshly cooked, still-hot food usually has a "wet" surface (either from water, steam, or oil).

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  • Ah I see! Thank you very much! Foods absorb moisture and oil as they cool, right? I've heard that quite often too, but again I don't know if that's true (i.e. if the lower temperature results in some change in the chemistry to make foods more prone to absorbing or if the time is just correlated with drop in temperature and absorption). If it is, I suppose that would be an indirect reason why. Thanks for the answer! – Subhasish Mukherjee Mar 25 at 23:48
  • The mechanism I've heard for this effect is that as the food cools, you get a lower partial pressure of steam from the interior, and so you get a very slight suction effect, which helps the small particles of salt and seasoning adhere to the surface. – Blargant Mar 26 at 0:33

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