When it’s sticky, does it taste icky? Your first response is probably, NO! Who doesn’t love a sticky bun or maple syrup or a toasted marshmallow? But I don’t really mean the food itself. I mean the weather. Due to high humidity and hot temperatures, we have lots of sticky days here in the summer. And humidity, whether low or high, affects both the making and perception of food.
If you’ve always lived in a humid region, there’s no reason to notice this. The same is true if you’ve always lived in a dry climate. But those of you who have moved around may have seen the results of your baking change.
You can use the very same ingredients and technique but find it impossible to exactly duplicate the results you got in your previous home. When the humidity is high, you may notice that it’s easier to prepare soft breads than crusty breads or that baking takes longer.
Humidity level also affects our perception of taste. The ideal humidity in a house is around 50%. In my house, it ranges from 50 – 60 percent in warm weather. It can even climb higher if I don’t use the dehumidifying feature on my air conditioner. At this level, food tastes good.
When you fly in an airplane, the humidity drops under 30%. At that level, your perception of taste will not be as acute. Airline food vendors may attempt to compensate for blandness, but few of us have every had a satisfying meal on board. Fighting both low humidity and high altitude makes it difficult to create the ideal culinary experience.
Commercial bakeries often employ humidity control devices to improve the consistency of their product. At home, there are a few things you can do to prevent icky food:
- When it’s too humid, turn the air conditioner to a lower temperature before you begin to bake. You can also use a fan to dry the air.
- Make sure to use your exhaust fans.
- Store ingredients in moisture proof containers with a good seal. For more extreme conditions, place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Reduce the moisture in your recipe slightly.
- Use the convection feature if your oven has one.
- Make sure there’s a vapor barrier over dirt basement floors.
- If conditions are often extreme, purchase and use a dehumidifier or humidifier or explore alternate heating and cooling systems.
- Don’t use the drying feature on your dishwasher. If you need more humidity, open the dryer door while it’s hot and the dishes are wet.
- You can also increase humidity by simmering pots of water on the stove or making soup.
- An indoor dryer vent will pump moisture (and heat) into your home.
If conditions are not extreme, go with the flow. Experience will help guide you to add baking time or increase liquid in the batter.
Enjoy the slightly altered density or moisture in a muffin or cake. Savor the differences in your experience of each food. As long as it’s not icky when it’s sticky, it’s all good!