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Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking

4.2 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1569767061
ISBN-10: 1569767068
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  • Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking
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  • The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Full of charts, step-by-step photos, structural formulas, and amazing recipes (the cherry cream cheese has me drooling), you will become a better cook without even trying.” —MAKE Magazine

“This clear primer to the chemistry of cooking goes well beyond the basics to teach cooks how to improve their results scientifically.” —Science News


“The writing style is very personable and he does a great job of illustrating concepts with recipes.”      —Smithsonianmag.com

“With information advanced enough to interest the well-seasoned, hard-boiled home cook, the information in this book is written in such a friendly and approachable manner that even beginner kitchen-chemists will be delighted to learn from it.”—San Francisco Book Review

“A gateway into the science of food.”  —Gastronomica

About the Author

Simon Quellen Field is the author of Gonzo Gizmos, The Return of Gonzo Gizmos, and Why There's Antifreeze in Your Toothpaste. He is the creator of the popular website www.scitoys.com. He lives in Los Gatos, California.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569767068
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569767061
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book comes off as a write up of Google searches. It contains lots of interesting factiods, to be sure, and on the whole is worth the price, but it's neither a chemistry course nor a cooking course nor -- what you'd hope for -- a braiding of the two.

It's not a biochem course, not even a lightweight one, as it doesn't build from first principals -- it just throws out whatever chemistry facts happen to pop up, some times at a basic level and sometimes at a very deep level -- too deep, I'd think, for most cooks. Neither is it a cooking/baking course (it mixes both), as again it doesn't build up an understanding from basic principals. So you get a chemistry fact, sometimes paired with a curious fact about cooking or baking. Then off to the next fact. Fortunately, it has a table of contents and a good index, so at least you can find the tidbits you might be looking for. Many times they are interesting, but not always.

My degrees are in chemistry and I consider myself reasonable well read when it comes to gastronomy, so I enjoyed the book and read it completely. But I think if I were someone expecting to be lead through an understanding of basic food chemistry and simultaneously basic cooking/baking I would have been confused and disappointed. You'd come away with some facts, but I don't think you'd come away with an understanding of the chemistry of cooking or baking, and I don't think you'd become a better cook (or chemist).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not poorly written and does contain knowledge worth learning. The problem I had with the book is I had already purchased and read "the science and Lore of the kitchen" written by Harold McGee. I had found that Harold McGee's book was more detailed and covered a vast amount of knowledge. When I compared both books I felt like Culinary Reactions was kind of like attending a second grade class but you already graduate from high school, I found myself asking, why am I reading this? I can recommend this book to someone who is interested in obtaining the basics of food science. But if you are looking for more than I recommend "the science and Lore of the kitchen" written by Harold McGee.
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Format: Paperback
I like science, and love cooking. So Culinary Reactions : The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field is very exciting to me. The idea is to explain in clear and easy language how the chemicals in our foods react and behave to create what we eat.

From the liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream in the introduction, to the very end where he explains why salt and ice freeze ice cream and all the information in between, he's managed it very well.

The chapters each cover a specific topic, and there is some overlap in the examples used. Like making cheese involves making a protein gel using protein chemistry and can be flavored using molds which are covered in the biology chapter.

The language is clear and scientific. He explains the way molecules interact to create foams such as bread and meringues, how beer and vinegar are made, how specific cultured bacteria can create inhospitable environments for more dangerous bacteria. The affects of acids and bases on recipes, including a very clear explanation of the difference between the two.

Yes, it's science, but it's easy to read and understand.

There are few cooking projects that show the chemical processes at work. A whipped topping that's stabilized with the addition of xanthan gum, a homemade cheese cheese with instructions for two great, inexpensive and easy to build cheese presses, a turkey that's is surface sterilized to be cooked for a very long time at below boiling point temperatures to keep it super juicy, extracting DNA from pumpkins and fruit, and lemonade with color changing grape juice "chameleon eggs".
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Format: Paperback
Culinary Reactions explores the scientific principles behind everyday recipes. Don't be intimidated by the word science mixed in with this description, the way he explains the process is fun and easy to understand. The author starts out with the basics of chemistry in the kitchen including the importance of measuring and weighing ingredients. He also talks about the importance of using quality ingredients and how to estimate calories.

Each chapter is broken down by the type of reaction involved: Foams, Emulsions, Oils and Fats, Solutions, Crystallization, Protein Chemistry, Biology, Scaling Recipes Ups and Down, Heating, Acids and Bases, Oxidation and Reduction; and Boiling, Freezing and Pressure.

Culinary Reactions isn't really a cookbook although you fill find recipes scattered throughout the book. The breakdown of the chemical reactions may not necessarily tell you what to expect in each chapter unless you're familiar with cooking chemistry. As an example, Foams includes things like marshmallows, whipped cream and ice cream. The book explains why each reaction occurs so I learned that proteins in these foams are changed from their natural state (denatured) and attract and repel different things which eventually causes them to stick to different things and form a film that holds their shape. Each chapter includes diagrams of various molecular structures so you can see the actual chemical reaction that takes place. There are also several shaded boxes that include chemistry lessons you can read for more information on specific processes discussed in the chapter. This is perfect for those of us that either never took chemistry or haven't thought about it for years... just in case you don't remember what a covalent bond actually is.
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