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Using ingredients that aren't fresh will generally negatively impact the flavor of the dish, but does it impact how long the cooked dish will last before it goes bad? For example, if I make two pots of tomato sauce, one with freshly-picked tomatoes and one with tomatoes on their last legs, will the two resulting pots go bad at the same time (assuming everything else about the preparation is the same)?

That is, does the act of cooking result in a chemically different result for each kind (ripeness) of ingredient?

If it does, how much does it depend on the type of ingredient (e.g. meat vs. vegetables) used? How much does it depend on the style of cooking (i.e. it seems that "light" preparations (those that tend towards "more raw") might be more effected than those the have longer preparations.)

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It Depends.

First off, by 'goes bad' I'm assuming you mean both 'stale and unpalatable' and 'moldy and not food-safe'. And for both of those, it's going to greatly depend on what ingredient, what you're making, and how you're making it.

In the case of tomatoes, if you take your batch of 'last-legs' tomatoes (and I'm assuming you mean there's almost an unsafe level of bacterial/mold growth on them), and thoroughly cook them into a sauce, i.e. bring to a boil for an extended amount of time, you'll (hopefully) kill of the microbes, and inactivate the toxins created by those bacteria, you will have a generally safe-to-eat sauce. Compared with a similarly cooked sauce from fresher tomatoes, it will probably get moldy at roughly the same average rate.

However, it will probably taste worse. The 'last-legs' sauce will get to unpalatable faster than the fresh one.

Generally, if you're able to cook something thoroughly, you'll generally 'reset' the microbe growth timeline back to the starting-point.

With meat, however, you usually don't want to cook it to the point of sterility. (If you don't believe me, boil a steak for an hour. Then try to eat it.) So if you have a last-legs steak, I wouldn't cook it, then store it for a week in the fridge. Making a stew might be a good move, however.

  • That answers my question and underscores just how hard it is to talk about matters of taste. Thanks! – Lin Jul 18 '14 at 22:00

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