Why Do Some Meals Taste Better The Next Day

August 10, 2008 14 Comments

Bolognese sauce

Some Meals Just Taste Better The Next Day – How Come?

I’m sure all of you have prepared a stew or lasagna and thought it tasted better the next day. I know I have and some meals like braised short ribs, I will purposely prepare them one day to eat the next so all the fat rises to the top and solidifies while in the refrigerator.  I scoop out the fat with a spoon the next day for a delicious, less fatty sauce.

I received this email from Diane where she says, “About your posole tasting better the next day – lots of stews and soups taste better the next day. I discovered accidentally it isn’t really the length of time so much as an issue of temperature. In the winter, I will put a pot of something in the snow to cool it off, and then heat it up again – voila! It tastes like the next day. Definitely this is true for beef stew and curries.” – Diane

When I emailed Diane and asked her why she thought this was true, she wrote back,

“Oh, just a stab at a reason here…. maybe all the flavors have time to mix together – if the dish is cold, the molecules get closer together. In the case of cooking, so many dishes “mellow” with either time or cooling. I don’t know the exact reason, but it definitely is a phenomenon. One thing’s for sure, cooked eggplant really tastes better the next day. Btw, there’s a good book called “How to Read a French Fry” that talks about the scientific aspects of cooking. One thing I learned is why it’s good to throw in some old oil from a previously frying to new oil. Stuff like that.” – Diane

A Professional Chef’s Point of View

Hmmm, interesting answer and makes sense but I thought I would ask my friend Chef Jenni Field, a graduate Orlando Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School.  She is a wealth of information and frequent contributor at the Reluctant Gourmet Cooking Community and Culinary Forum.  Here is what she had to say,

“Most people swear that their soups and stews taste better the next day.  But why?  I have a couple of theories about this:

Theory 1: The flavors in your stew/soup/braise/curry benefit from concentration or reduction.  This happens with long, slow cooking and cooling.  During these processes, some of the water in the dish evaporates leaving more concentrated flavors behind.  But, Diane brings up a good point.  Often the food tastes better after a period of refrigeration and reheating.

So, here is Theory 2:  it’s kind of like tempering chocolate.  I know; work with me here.  The cocoa butter in chocolate is made up of several different fats that all have slightly different melting points.  The purpose of tempering is to get the fats to crystallize at the same time, providing that snap, sheen and resistance to melting that define chocolate in good temper.

So, to temper chocolate, you go through a process of heating, cooling and reheating the chocolate to a good “working temperature.”  Now, this might be a bit of a stretch, but think of all of your ingredients as the different compounds in cocoa butter.  Each one releases its flavors at slightly different temperatures and under slightly different conditions (this is why adding some alcohol in the form of beer, wine or even spirits to a dish often rewards you with a more complex end product–some flavor compounds are not water soluble, but alcohol is soluble and won’t develop unless you introduce alcohol to the mix).

Once you’ve cooked your stew/soup/braise/curry to doneness, the cooling and reheating “tempers” those disparate flavors; they “marry” into one harmonious and complex overarching flavor profile with all sorts of nuances.  And that is why I (almost) always exercise supreme restraint when making a braised/stewed dish and wait and serve it the next day.”

What’s Your Thoughts On Why Food Often Tastes Better The Next Day

Both Diane & Chef Jenni have excellent points of view and if you have a different theory please let us know below. Whether you are a home cook or a food scientist, I would like to hear what you think about this subject.

Last modified on Sun 8 March 2015 3:16 pm

Comments (14)

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  1. Merlin says:

    what about the invasion of microorganisms? I know we’re talking about putting it in the fridge, but possibly at certain points during the cooling down and reheating, there is an optimum temperature for the growth of friendly bacteria which add a delicious flavour? Just a thought.

  2. Silvertail says:

    I wonder if oxidization has an effect on this. That is why some wines benefit from “breathing.” Anyway I made wat, think of it as the Ethiopian version of curry, and it was good the first day, but far more flavorful the day after.

  3. Ed says:

    Maybe it’s you, and not the food? If you have spend ages preparing a meal, the taste may not be as enjoyable as it would be if not recently experienced through smell. Lets not forget that our ability to taste comes mostly from our sense of smell.

    Hi Ed, I think the sense of taste although enhanced by the sense of smell comes mainly from our taste buds. The texture of a food as well as the temperature also plays a role and in combination make up what we call flavor. – RG

    • Aly says:

      I totally see this as possible ! I’ve always thought this myself, I wonder if it has a lot to do with the fact you’ve been cooking and smelling it for hours.. 👍

  4. Keegan says:

    I think it has to do with the meat. Many meals DON’T taste good the next day, but I’ve yet to have a meal made with meat that didn’t improve with a bit of refrigeration.

    Hi Keegan, thanks for your thoughts. – RG

  5. Todd says:

    Here’s my theory….
    I am from New Orleans and have made many local dishes and soups. The most obvious dishes that benefit from being left ovennight in the fridge are soups or liquids. What’s interesting is this…The first day you prepare a spicy dish it is very spicy, but as time goes on the spices break down and no longer hold a candle to the first day. I would say its easily a 1/3 of the original spiciness. When food is in its original state in a refridgerator , it is essientially in preservation mode. From the moment is was extracted from an animal or the ground , it’s flavors begin breaking down. This is really just a micro scale of rotting. But in the very very beginning stages of it, so beginning you wont reallly notice it. Once you cook something at 212 degrees, molecules of the food begins to break down and soften, water is often excreted as well. What you smell is merely food particles. Food being stored after its been cooked is like a soapy wet washcloth that gets wrung out and left out in the sun to dry out. The smell should go away but it doesn’t, because the concentration of soap particles never left, but water did. So yes food might get more intense a day or two later…but what I think is when food initially gets cooked there are a lot of unpleasant tastes as well that people dont pick up on…for example take a bite out of a bell pepper or even just smell it after chopping it. Often times, I smell a strong planty smell to it. almost like the smell of weed wacking those talk celery looking weeds outside. That’s because its still alive and green that you get that smell from a bell pepper. That smell gets cooked away but its still there. Oils and Fats are probably more resistant to breaking down in the cooling process so they beat out the planty aromas in the cooling process in the refrigerator. The starches in rice continue to break down as well in all of my soups. It really becomes mushy because it is soaking in fluid for hours..Makes sense! Everything gets softer and as things get softer and break down, more flavors in areas that were resisting the cooking process can finally get reached and release more flavors that might have previously been holding out in the cooking process. Think about red beans and rice. It takes 3 hours of solid boiling to break down the red kidney bean…then it finally liquifies and produces this viscous red juice. A lot of people don’t cook things for three hours but instead put it in the fridge after making an hour long meal. Well those other two hours things are happening just like the three hours it takes before the kidney bean takes a new form and begins softening.

    Just a few ideas for yall. : )

  6. Andrew says:

    What all these theories appear to have in common, save the ‘tempering chocolate’ analogy, is some biochemical breakdown during refridgeration. This has one potential flaw: the effect of cooling on reaction rates. Cooling preserves food because it slows the reaction rates of decomposition and the activity of bacterial functions. While it is a 24h wait, the rate can slow up to 100 times for ever 20 degrees (using Arhenius conditions). If this “slow rotting” theory was true, the effect of placing it in the fridge for 24 hours should be the same as waiting 20 minutes at room temperature. To address the ‘mushy kidney beans’ that can be a combination of ruptured membrane and swelling of the starch and protein polymers. Perhaps instead of ‘slow rotting’ it’s a solvent penetration issue. The chocolate tempering and alcohol addition is interesting and ring similar to the theme of flavour/nutrient solvation. Perhaps that could explain purees and sauces in high end places, or even why meal replacement shakes are more popular than bars.

  7. marc says:

    Personally, I cook because I have to, and things generally come out good. I think some things are better off not being nailed down as to why. Like rainbows, morning dew, Christmas morning… Sometimes the flavor fairy just shows up and makes it better. I’m just going to leave it at that while my chicken soup sits till tomorrow in the fridge. Then I am going to eat it and just be happier then if I ate it today.

    • And your response made me happy 🙂

      • Jim says:

        This also made me happy. 🙂
        My potato leek soup ALWAYS tastes better the next day. I thought it had something to do with letting it cool and have the flavors meld without heat but now I’m thinking it’s just my friendly neighborhood flavor fairy.

        • Joe says:

          True, i also feel that way personally, but if we can find ot why, then restaurant and cooking business could try to find way to replicate that homey taste in shorter time, hence reduced manhour while create better food, and customers will be happier.

  8. Chris w says:

    I dont believe cooling changes the flavor. If anything it may slow down the process that enhances the flavor hours to days later. When I cook bolognese I never serve it the same day unless I have to. I leave it covered at room temperature for about 18 hours at least.

    I believe it matures as a result of early stage decomposition.

    I think a scientist with an electron microscope could be more definitive.

    Think of it this way, if I left it out at room temperature for a week, my bolognese would be off and minging! Now divide that by 7 and you’ve got a higher flavor, you hang peasant for up to a week before cooking, cheese matures for months, the best ribeye prime is left to age for up to 60 days in a salt dry room in the best steakhouses.

    I believe the same principal of flavor enhancing decomposition is at work here.

  9. KoolBreeze says:

    I don’t know the reason either but nowadays when I make a lasagna or a pasta sauce I make it early so that I can refrigerate it until it has fully cooled or I make it the night before. I never add pasta to the sauce cause that will ruin it I’m not sure why it works with lasagna noodles for whatever reason they don’t act like other pasta by sucking up all the moisture and turning into a complete mush that my dog won’t eat. lol. Now that I am a widower it’s cheaper for me to buy a frozen PC choice lasagna because to date it’s the only lasagna that actually has cottage cheese in it, but the top layer of cheese is pretty wimpy so I add a good layer of my own cheese on top and I don’t like to eat it until it’s cooled down and reheated it I can’t explain this but it just is. When I eat it I use craft parmesan, garlic bread w/cheese and crushed red pepper to bring it all together in one fantastic poor man’s lasagna dish lol.

  10. Lee moreno says:

    I know of one very simple true reason. Not saying it’s the only reason. If you cook something to an internal temperature especially meats that is high enough. It expels what’s in it. juices and flavors come out of the meats and vegetables. take a piece of something boil it in plain water long enough then taste it.. it would be tasteless.. so as our dishes are cooling and then sitting it gets to re absorb all the various flavors that were cooked out. But if you eat it too soon after most of the flavor is in the broth alone.. after sitting long enough everything is permeated with the flavors of everything and everything taste like everything.. lol just started feeling silly so tired right now..I think this is in my opinion the biggest factor but not the only..

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