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ed-Over Flavor, the Phenomenon That Turns Leftovers Funky

A powerful foe exists in kitchens the world over—a force so strong it can render even a famous chef’s roast chicken cardboard-y, stale, and faintly rancid. It’s called warmed-over flavor, or WOF for short, and we most recently met when I reheated some chicken I’d braised for a dinner party the night before. One bite in, I panicked—had I really served my guests a bird tainted with that much funk? But I distinctly recalled that dinner had been delightful, the chicken perfectly cooked. The truth was, warmed-over flavor had struck again.

If you’ve ever wrinkled your nose at brand-new leftovers, or tossed them because they tasted uncharacteristically ripe, then you, too, have experienced this phenomenon firsthand. Perhaps you, too, would like to prevent future leftovers from succumbing to the clutches of WOF. After my latest debacle, that’s precisely what I set out to do.

I wasn’t alone in my endeavor. Food scientists have devoted years of research to determining precisely what alchemy occurs in leftover food to give it WOF, and how to prevent it from happening in mass-produced meat products, like deli meats. These scientists have teased apart the chemistry at play, which should, in theory, allow the crafty cook to keep WOF at bay in their home kitchen.

The Science of Warmed-Over Flavor

Stopping WOF starts with understanding precisely where it comes from. Scientists and observant eaters alike agree that the flavor is most noticeable in cooked meats that have been refrigerated for 24 hours or more, then reheated. Though it’s especially obvious in leftover fish and poultry, discerning connoisseurs can pick out the WOF bouquet in most reheated meats. These flavors are the result of a series of chemical reactions that begins with the deterioration of specific kinds of fats known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs. (Fatty acids are the precursors to the fats that build up in an animal’s body, like the stuff you trim off a chicken thigh or hope to get rid of at the gym.) PUFAs, in particular, are found in the membranes of cells.

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

The muscles that we consume as meat are made up of millions of microscopic cells, each of which is surrounded by a membrane of tightly organized fat molecules that behave like an oil drop in water.* That membrane serves as a barrier to enclose all the machinery that makes the cell tick. The amount of PUFAs in cell membranes differs from animal to animal; chicken and fish have a much higher concentration of PUFAs in their cells than lamb, pork, or beef, hence their increased tendency toward WOF.

*Unsaturated fats tend to behave like oils; “unsaturated” refers to the fact that the carbon chains that make up their molecular structure aren’t all paired with hydrogen atoms. The presence of free carbon in these chains gives fats the ability to flow. In contrast, because the carbon chains in saturated fats have bonded with as many hydrogen atoms as they can, they’re stiff and waxy, like a candle—this is why foods high in saturated fats, like butter or lard, have a solid consistency. PUFAs are called “polyunsaturated” because they’re missing hydrogen atoms at many positions along the fatty-acid chain.

Eric Decker, a professor of food science at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, has spent his career trying to thwart WOF. He explains that part of the challenge is that the chemistry behind WOF is so speedy. “The reaction is really fast—it’s probably the fastest lipid oxidation in any food,” Decker says. “It’s occurring as soon as you take the meat out of the oven…it’s probably starting in the oven itself.”

The process goes something like this: When you’re cooking a chicken breast, the heat starts to break down the cells that make up the muscle. Each cell membrane deforms, like a stick of butter melting, and the proteins within the cells begin to lose their shape, or denature. This is bad news if you’re a cell, but good news if you’re about to eat a couple million of them in the form of a chicken breast—all that breakdown allows melted fat to permeate the meat and loosens up gristly connective tissues, resulting in juicier, more tender chicken.

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Right out of the skillet, that chicken is delicious, but that very same tenderizing breakdown process creates the potential for WOF to develop. When certain proteins denature, they loosen their hold on iron molecules. Free iron roams around cells and catalyzes a chemical reaction between PUFAs and oxygen. That reaction in turn creates free radicals, the cell-destroying agents that antioxidant foods and juices supposedly keep in check. Those free radicals start a chain reaction that transforms the normally inoffensive PUFAs into by-products with the tastes and aromas of warmed-over flavor. They’re not harmful to eat, but they stink. And, unfortunately, once the reaction starts, there’s nothing you can do to stop its malodorous spread.

According to Decker, because the reaction involves cell membranes rather than the visible white fat that marbles meat, buying lean cuts doesn’t help reduce WOF, nor does trimming excess fat from your chicken. Dark meat, like a chicken thigh, is dark because of high concentrations of iron in its cells, making it particularly susceptible to WOF. Decker also says it probably doesn’t matter how the chicken is raised—whether it’s organic, free-range, or raised in feedlots. “The only thing that would help would be to feed the chickens vitamin E,” he says. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that makes its way into cell membranes and protects them from degradation, but, while Decker notes that some vitamin E is generally fed to all livestock, putting an entire barnyard on a high-antioxidant diet just to control WOF wouldn’t be cost-effective.

On the industrial scale, commercially produced meats, like cold cuts and precooked chicken, are processed with phosphates and vacuum-packed while still hot to minimize WOF. Vacuum-packing sucks out all the air, limiting the oxygen that’s available to react with iron. Phosphate, on the other hand, pairs up with all the free iron and holds on to it, preventing it from catalyzing chemical reactions. In a vacuum with little free iron, WOF will develop more slowly.

Without the amenities of a meat-processing facility, home cooks have a more limited range of options to slow down WOF-inducing reactions. The best way, according to Decker, is to take a page from the industrial playbook and limit cooked meats’ exposure to oxygen as soon as feasibly possible. You don’t have to take your dinner guests’ plates while they’re still eating, but you might pack the leftovers tightly in heat-safe containers after everyone is served. If you’re especially sensitive to warmed-over flavor, you may even consider investing in a vacuum sealer of your own. “The faster you vacuum-pack it, the more effective it’s going to be,” Decker says.

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Flavorful sauces are another potential solution, since they create a barrier to air, which will slow down WOF-forming processes—especially in soups, stews, or curries in which smaller morsels of meat are fully submerged. These may even be doubly effective if flavored with ground herbs or spices that are known to quash free radicals. “Rosemary and oregano are good antioxidants, so they could have some protection,” Decker says. As an added benefit, a punchy sauce will help mask any WOF when you reheat the leftovers the next day. Unfortunately, no matter how powerful the antioxidants in a sauce, there’s no way they can suffuse an entire, intact piece of meat, like a chicken thigh. “There’s not a lot you can do,” Decker admits.

Though WOF seems like an insurmountable obstacle, I was invited by the editors of Serious Eats to try to devise workable strategies for circumventing these oxidation reactions in a home kitchen, using our understanding of the chemistry behind them. We tested out a number of different approaches.

The Testing

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

The goal in all our testing was to determine whether different cooking and storing methods could produce a discernible impact on WOF. To test cooking methods, we started with bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and thighs, all seasoned with 1.5% kosher salt by weight. Twenty-four hours before the taste-testing commenced, we cooked a whole mess of chicken breasts sous vide at 160°F (71°C) for 1.5 hours, then rapidly chilled them in ice baths. We also cooked chicken thighs dressed in a number of different ways—marinated, herbed, coated in a variety of oils—which we roasted until an instant-read thermometer registered 160°F, then let cool naturally.

For the storage testing, we stored individual bone-in, skin-on breasts, either tightly wrapped in plastic or placed in oversize Tupperware containers; we did the same with breasts that we had deboned and skinned after cooking and cooling.

We also tested whether the method of reheating had an impact on WOF, comparing chicken breasts reheated in a microwave, in an oven, and sous vide against freshly cooked sous vide chicken breast. We then tasted rewarmed plain chicken thighs and thighs coated with different fats—peanut oil, olive oil, butter—against freshly cooked thighs, and we also tested rewarmed chicken thighs sprinkled with herbs (rosemary and tarragon, separately), as well as chicken thighs marinated in lemon juice, once more against plain, freshly cooked chicken thighs.

Finally, we tested whether some degree of Maillard browning could mitigate WOF, comparing a leftover browned chicken thigh and a leftover unbrowned but fully cooked chicken thigh against a freshly cooked (and browned) thigh.

The Results

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

In the storage portion of the testing, we tasters nearly unanimously agreed that freshly cooked chicken was free of WOF. With the leftovers, however, there wasn’t much that we did that could stave off the rubbery, lunch meat–y flavor indicative of WOF. That was about the only thing we agreed on, though there was mild consensus that storing breasts in Tupperware resulted in the least offensive funk, regardless of whether the chicken was deboned before refrigeration.

With our palates primed and our stomachs still relatively empty, we moved on to the tests of flavorings and Maillard browning. Across the board, we generally detected WOF in the leftovers regardless of whether the thighs were browned or not. Adding flavorings to the meat, through either fats or spices, did decrease the intensity of WOF, though, for the most part, we could still pick the leftover thighs out of the lineup. Probably because of their milder flavors, the different oils produced more mixed results.

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the least offensive leftover in the entire experiment was the chicken initially marinated with lemon, followed closely by the chicken seasoned with rosemary. Whether this is attributable to flavor-masking or to the antioxidant effects of these seasonings couldn’t be determined (and it’s worth noting that one out of four testers still picked up some WOF notes from these samples). Decker suggests that seasonings work best to prevent oxidation reactions when they’re mixed with ground meat, where they can coat a larger surface area than just the outermost layer.

From the reheating-methods portion of the testing, the clearest result was that microwaving does gross things to chicken and should be avoided at all costs. Compared with the other reheating methods, the microwave gave the chicken an unappealingly spongy texture that, combined with WOF undertones, is no way to win over the leftover-leery. Reheating leftover breasts sous vide resulted in the lowest degree of WOF detected, followed by reheating in the oven, which may be more practical for the home cook.

As our guts processed the massive quantity of chicken we had just consumed, we processed our results. The most universal finding from our taste-testing was more philosophical than anything else: When you put a bite of food in your mouth and critically scrutinize it for any funky flavor, more often than not, you’re going to find it. Perhaps this is the root of the problem with WOF: If you’re the type who tends to give leftovers the stink eye in the first place, you’re definitely going to pick out the WOF when you reheat them the next day.

Less WOF, Less Waste

Planning on chicken salad the next day can help you avoid wasting your leftovers.
Photograph: Vicky Wasik

An aversion to off flavors like WOF can have more profound consequences than an unpleasant leftover-eating experience. According to Jonathan Bloom, journalist and author of the book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food, food waste has increased by 50% since the 1970s. “A significant amount of that happens at home,” he says, and much of it comes from a preference for avoiding leftovers. “Sixty-three million tons of food is squandered in the US, and that has a direct financial cost of $280 billion,” Bloom adds. These are daunting statistics, but, on the upside, as Bloom puts it, “That means we’re wasteful, but we have the potential to have a major impact on the issue.”

Bloom acknowledges that it’s a challenge to eat leftovers with WOF. He employs a technique called “planned-overs,” a one-two punch that incorporates both careful planning of meals and thinking ahead to how their leftovers can be applied to tasty new dishes. Because flavors tend to be less pronounced in cold food, try second-day meals that avoid the microwave to keep WOF under the radar. “Have grilled chicken one night and a grilled-chicken Caesar salad the next,” he says. (Or, turn your leftovers into a lighter, mayo-free chicken salad, punched up with kimchi, ginger, and scallions.)

While the traditional European-style practice of buying food for same-day preparation is impractical for the vast majority of us, Bloom says that becoming a smarter shopper is essential. He recommends you “shop with a purpose, for meals that you’ve planned ahead.” Finally, if he knows that a particular meal won’t be good the second or third time around, he makes an effort to adjust the recipe so that it feeds the number of people he’s serving and no more. With no leftovers, there’s no need to worry about WOF.

In the end, the best advice we can give you on leftovers is to know thyself, and what you’re willing to eat, lest you waste part of a perfectly good meal. And, if all else fails, maybe just add hot sauce.

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Meet Warmed-Over Flavor, the Phenomenon That Turns ...

Meet Warmed-Over Flavor, the Phenomenon That Turns …

  • Author: seriouseats.com

  • Rating: 4⭐ (191580 rating)

  • Highest Rate: 5⭐

  • Lowest Rate: 3⭐

  • Sumary: A powerful foe exists in kitchens the world over—a force so strong it can render even a famous chef’s roast chicken cardboard-y, stale, and faintly rancid. It’s called warmed-over flavor, or WOF for short. Here’s why it happens, and what you can do to avoid it.

  • Matching Result: Scientists and observant eaters alike agree that the flavor is most noticeable in cooked meats that have been refrigerated for 24 hours or more, then reheated.

  • Intro: Meet Warmed-Over Flavor, the Phenomenon That Turns Leftovers Funky A powerful foe exists in kitchens the world over—a force so strong it can render even a famous chef’s roast chicken cardboard-y, stale, and faintly rancid. It’s called warmed-over flavor, or WOF for short, and we most recently met when I reheated some chicken I’d braised for a dinner party the night before. One bite in, I panicked—had I really served my guests a bird tainted with that much funk? But I distinctly recalled that dinner had been delightful, the chicken perfectly cooked. The truth was, warmed-over flavor had struck again….
  • Source: https://www.seriouseats.com/what-is-warmed-over-flavor-leftover-chicken-meat

Why Chicken Tastes Different When It's Reheated - Mashed

Why Chicken Tastes Different When It's Reheated – Mashed

  • Author: mashed.com

  • Rating: 4⭐ (191580 rating)

  • Highest Rate: 5⭐

  • Lowest Rate: 3⭐

  • Sumary: No matter how succulent and delicious your dish was the evening before, reheating chicken can often result in a deterioration of both flavor and texture. As long as you reheat the chicken properly, there’s no safety issue with eating it, and it’s a purely taste-related problem. Here’s why.

  • Matching Result: According to food scientists and taste testers, this flavor is most likely to strike when the chicken has been refrigerated for at least 24 …

  • Intro: Why Chicken Tastes Different When It’s Reheated Shutterstock No matter how succulent and delicious your dish was the evening before, reheating chicken can often result in a deterioration of both flavor and texture. As long as you reheat the chicken properly, there’s no safety issue with eating it, and it’s a purely taste-related problem (via Delishably).  This phenomenon has been termed “warmed-over flavor” and can be described as lending a cardboard-esque texture as well as a “stale, faintly rancid” flavor to chicken that has been reheated (via Serious Eats). According to food scientists and taste testers, this flavor is most…
  • Source: https://www.mashed.com/208064/why-chicken-tastes-different-when-its-reheated/

How to Make Reheated Chicken Taste Good {Tips & Method}

How to Make Reheated Chicken Taste Good {Tips & Method}

  • Author: onepotdishrecipe.com

  • Rating: 4⭐ (191580 rating)

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  • Sumary: How to Make Reheated Chicken Taste Good

  • Matching Result: Reheating chicken can cause various problems, such as reducing the flavor and texture of the dish. However, it’s important to remember that this …

  • Intro: How to Make Reheated Chicken Taste Good {Tips & Method} Reheating chicken can cause various problems, such as reducing the flavor and texture of the dish. However, it’s important to remember that this issue is purely taste-related. In these scenarios, you might find that the chicken patties you’ve bought earlier from Costco are lifesavers! The question is, though, how many Costco chicken patties per person?  In this article, you will learn how to make reheated chicken taste good. Best Ways to Avoid Warmedover Flavor With Chicken The best way to not strip the flavors of chicken when reheating is by…
  • Source: https://onepotdishrecipe.com/how-to-make-reheated-chicken-taste-good/

Why Does Leftover Chicken Taste Bad? (4 Reasons)

Why Does Leftover Chicken Taste Bad? (4 Reasons)

  • Author: missvickie.com

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  • Sumary: So, if you are worried about the flavor and want to know why does leftover chicken taste bad, we are here with the answers!

  • Matching Result: To begin with, the specific taste of leftover chicken isn’t related to chicken being spoiled, but it’s only related to taste.

  • Intro: Why Does Leftover Chicken Taste Bad? (4 Reasons) – Miss Vickie Why Does Leftover Chicken Taste Bad? Chicken is one of the most delicious meals one can ever enjoy, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that many of us make it in loads. However, people usually end up having to store the leftover chicken. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how delicious and succulent the chicken was an evening before; reheating will result in a weird taste. So, if you are worried about the flavor and want to know why does leftover chicken taste bad, we are here with the answers!…
  • Source: https://missvickie.com/why-does-leftover-chicken-taste-bad/

Warmed-over flavor - Wikipedia

Warmed-over flavor – Wikipedia

  • Author: en.wikipedia.org

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  • Sumary: Warmed-over flavor is an unpleasant characteristic usually associated with meat which has been cooked and then refrigerated. The deterioration of meat flavor is most noticeable upon reheating. As cooking and subsequent refrigeration is the case with most convenience foods containing meat, it is a significant challenge to the processed food industry. The flavor is variously described as “rancid,” “stale,” and like “cardboard,” and even compared to “damp dog hair.”[1] Warmed-over flavor is caused by the oxidative decomposition of lipids (fatty substances) in the meat into chemicals (short-chain aldehydes or ketones) which have an unpleasant taste or odor. This decomposition process begins after cooking or processing and is aided by the release of naturally occurring iron in the meat.[1]

  • Matching Result: The flavor is variously described as “rancid,” “stale,” and like “cardboard,” and even compared to “damp dog hair.” Warmed-over flavor is caused by the …

  • Intro: Warmed-over flavor Warmed-over flavor is an unpleasant characteristic usually associated with meat which has been cooked and then refrigerated. The deterioration of meat flavor is most noticeable upon reheating. As cooking and subsequent refrigeration is the case with most convenience foods containing meat, it is a significant challenge to the processed food industry. The flavor is variously described as “rancid,” “stale,” and like “cardboard,” and even compared to “damp dog hair.”[1] Warmed-over flavor is caused by the oxidative decomposition of lipids (fatty substances) in the meat into chemicals (short-chain aldehydes or ketones) which have an unpleasant taste or odor. This…
  • Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warmed-over_flavor

Why does cooked chicken taste different after a few days in ...

Why does cooked chicken taste different after a few days in …

  • Author: cooking.stackexchange.com

  • Rating: 4⭐ (191580 rating)

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  • Sumary: I have observed that cooked (fried) chicken tastes a little bit different when left in the fridge for 2-3 days. I don’t observe this with pork or beef. Is there a way to get around this or is this …

  • Matching Result: Every meat, or dishes for that matter, will taste different after being reheated. You might not noticed it as bad with different kind of …

  • Intro: Why does cooked chicken taste different after a few days in the fridge? I have observed that cooked (fried) chicken tastes a little bit different when left in the fridge for 2-3 days. I don’t observe this with pork or beef. Is there a way to get around this or is this really normal for chicken meat? asked May 23, 2017 at 8:37 binsnoelbinsnoel3694 gold badges8 silver badges16 bronze badges 7 There are a few reasons why leftovers taste different. Here I will base my answer from the chapter on meat of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (Which…
  • Source: https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/81922/why-does-cooked-chicken-taste-different-after-a-few-days-in-the-fridge

Frequently Asked Questions About reheated chicken taste

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic reheated chicken taste, then this section may help you solve it.

Why does chicken have a weird taste when reheated?

Though it’s especially obvious in leftover fish and poultry, discerning connoisseurs can pick out the WOF bouquet in most reheated meats. These flavors are the result of a series of chemical reactions that begins with the deterioration of specific kinds of fats known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs.

How do you make reheated chicken taste better?

Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil and a teaspoon or two of water over the chicken. This will help keep the meat moist. (You can also use water and salsa or chicken broth for extra flavor.)

Why does chicken sometimes taste gamey?

Chef Daniel Volponi says gaminess, like so much in life, boils down to diet and exercise. “You have a very distinct, almost metallic flavor in game that can be the result of a higher iron content. Anything that is wild and not farm-raised is going to have a more active lifestyle, with a more active heart rate

Why does chicken sometimes taste weird?

“The principal source of off-flavors is unsaturated fatty acids, which are damaged by oxygen and iron from myoglobin. — Meats with a greater proportion of unsaturated fat in their fat tissue ? poultry (!!) and pork ? are more susceptible to warmed-over flavor than beef and lamb.”

Is it true you shouldn’t reheat chicken?

Lydia Buchtmann, spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council, told SBS that it’s technically OK to reheat chicken. However, you need to make sure that every single part of the chicken has reached a temperature of at least 175 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure dangerous bacteria are killed.

Why should you not reheat chicken in the microwave?

Before eating chicken, you have to cook it thoroughly to eliminate all present bacteria. Since microwaves don’t fully or evenly cook all parts of the meat, you’re more likely to be left with surviving bacteria, such as salmonella.

How do you add flavor to already cooked chicken?

Add Your Own Seasonings, Like Sofrito

To add some freshness and flavor back into it, cut the chicken into whatever size you like and add your own seasoning to it. I usually love to make sofrito, a Puerto Rican recipe made from cilantro, green peppers, onions.

Does chicken taste better the next day?

You might not noticed it as bad with different kind of dishes (for example, its particularly noticeable with poultry ( chicken and other birds) and fish). But rest assure, the quality of taste reduce considerably after 24 hours in the fridge and reheated. This is due to spoilage bacteria.

How do you get the gamey taste out of cooked chicken?

The distinct game flavor of either birds or animals will be milder after soaking the meat overnight in the refrigerator in either a salt or vinegar solution. 2. Vinegar solution – 1 cup per quart of cold water. Use enough solution to cover the game completely.

Why does my chicken taste a little sour?

Chicken that’s gone bad will usually have a sour taste. Most of the time, you should be able to tell whether it’s still good just by smelling it. If you do happen to take a bite or two of spoiled chicken, stop eating immediately and discard what’s left. The more you eat, the likelier you are to get sick as a result.

How do you reheat cold chicken?

Turn the oven to 350F. Place the chicken pieces into a baking dish, add about 1 cup chicken broth or water to the dish and cover with foil. Bake for 15 minutes before removing the foil and baking for another 5 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165F and the skin has a little crisp to it.

Is chicken supposed to taste sour?

What is this? Bad chicken with a sour taste is the most obvious sign. Spoiled chicken smells like ammonia as well. To be more specific, chicken tastes sour, which is easy to detect, so you can instantly feel the difference when you accidentally eat bad chicken compared to when you eat a delicious chicken piece.

Can you reheat an already cooked chicken?

Chicken is no different from other meats, and you can reheat it safely two or more times. When you reheat chicken, it is important that you properly heat it the whole way through. Pieces of chicken must be steaming in the middle.

When should you not reheat chicken?

How Often Can You Reheat Chicken? It doesn’t matter how chicken meat is cooked the first time, it is only safe to reheat it once. Similarly, the chicken can be reheated in a microwave, a frying pan, in the oven, on the barbecue, or even in a slow cooker. Remember: Reheated chicken meat must be consumed in one sitting!

What are the rules of reheating chicken?

Reheat leftovers to at least 70oC for a minimum of two minutes, and do not reheat more than once. If reheating in the microwave, turn or stir the chicken regularly to ensure the reheating is even. Cover dishes to retain as much moisture as possible and to assist in reheating the food all the way through.

What foods should you never reheat?

8) Spinach, Beets, and Celery

According to the CDC, heat can cause these veggies to actually release carcinogens when they’re being reheated for a second time. Bashinsky says it’s best to prepare these again fresh and then re-introduce them into leftovers for the second time around, if you must.

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