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On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen Hardcover – .dff, November 23, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Before antioxidants, extra-virgin olive oil and supermarket sushi commanded public obsession, the first edition of this book swept readers and cooks into the everyday magic of the kitchen: it became an overnight classic. Now, 20 years later, McGee has taken his slightly outdated volume and turned it into a stunning masterpiece that combines science, linguistics, history, poetry and, of course, gastronomy. He dances from the spicy flavor of Hawaiian seaweed to the scientific method of creating no-stir peanut butter, quoting Chinese poet Shu Xi and biblical proverbs along the way. McGee's conversational style—rich with exclamation points and everyday examples—allows him to explain complex chemical reactions, like caramelization, without dumbing them down. His book will also be hailed as groundbreaking in its breakdown of taste and flavor. Though several cookbooks have begun to answer the questions of why certain foods go well together, McGee draws on recent agricultural research, neuroscience reviews and chemical publications to chart the different flavor chemicals in herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables. Odd synergies appear, like the creation of fruity esters in dry-cured ham—the same that occur naturally in melons! McGee also corrects the European bias of the first edition, moving beyond the Mediterranean to discuss the foods of Asia and Mexico. Almost every single page of this edition has been rewritten, but the book retains the same light touch as the original. McGee has successfully revised the bible of food science—and produced a fascinating, charming text.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Scientific American

"In 1984, canola oil and the computer mouse and compact disc were all novelties... [and] the worlds of science and cooking were neatly compartmentalized." A lot has changed in 20 years: magazines and books now discuss the science of cooking, and culinary schools offer "experimental" courses that investigate the whys of cooking. So McGee, a writer who specializes in the chemistry of food and cooking, has completely rewritten his 1984 classic, expanding it by two thirds into a book that weighs in at almost 900 pages. He offers thorough, scientific explanations of countless topics, including why brining your turkey is not a good idea, why food wrapped in plastic often tastes like plastic, why you should never refrigerate tomatoes. And he continues to display, as one admirer said of the first edition, "a scientist's skill and a cook's heart."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Rev Upd edition (November 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684800012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684800011
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (487 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,844 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Harold McGee writes about the chemistry of food and cooking, and the science of everyday life. He has worked alongside some of world's most innovative chefs, including Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal. He lives with his family in California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,017 of 1,037 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This red `On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen' by Harold McGee is a new edition of what is the most widely quoted culinary work in English. It may be almost as influential on the thinking of culinary professionals as Julia Child's `Mastering the Art of French Cooking' was on attitudes of American home cooking. The testimonials from the likes of Thomas Keller, Paula Wolfert, Jacques Pepin, and Rose Levy Beranbaum just begins to tell you how important McGee's volume has become. I was immensely pleased to see the exchange of acknowledgments between McGee and Keller to see how much the academic can learn from the professional chef.

I can devote my thousand words on how good this book has been to the culinary world, but most of you already know that. What I will do is to list all the reasons one may wish to read this book.

First, the book is simply interesting to amateur foodies and culinary professionals. This is the serendipity principle. If you prospect in a rich land, you will invariably find something of value. The `lore' in the subtitle is not an afterthought. The book includes history, linguistics and cooking practice in addition to simple science.
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366 of 379 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Adler VINE VOICE on December 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a truly unique and wonderful book. It contains a tremendous amount of information about the food we eat. It shows the structure and composition of animals, plants, eggs, liquids, and seeds, explaining why each one has certain characteristics (for example, it turns out that the smell of fish comes from the decomponsition of a chemical in ocean fish cells that maintains the proper pressure balance with salt water). It explains what happpens when ingredients are chopped, mixed, heated, cooled, fermented, or otherwise transformed.

I discovered the first edition about five years ago, and it permanently changed how I think about food and how I cook. Since then, I've seen many other chefs mention this book. For example, in Michael Ruhlman's book "The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute," CIA students often study this (unrequired) book to better understand what they're doing.

You should be aware that this book is more an encypclopedia than an a recipe book or a collection of essays. If you're looking for a fun discussion of food science, then Alton Brown's "I'm just here for the food" may be a better choice. If you're looking for recipes that are optimized by principles of food science, I'd recommend Shirley O. Corriher's "Cookwise." (Actually, I'd recommend both of those books anyway.) Some readers may find "On Food and Cooking" a little bit too dense and technical to read from cover to cover, but as a reference book, it's unmatched.

The second edition is a great improvement over the first, and I'd strongly recommend it not only to new readers but to anyone who read the first edition. (Just the new section on fish makes this book worth purchasing.
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98 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Food lovers can rest easy now that Harold McGee has updated his eminently readable 1984 tome, "On Food and Cooking". He is the literary counterpart to the Food Network's Alton Brown in providing an amalgam of history, science, literature, and cooking tips, spreading his knowledge across fifteen chapters, each devoted to a different food category. McGee leaves no food unturned. He starts rather appropriately with milk and dairy products, life-starting foods, and goes through edible plants, cereals, doughs and batters, wine and beer and distilled spirits, even basic food molecules. This is no dry scientific book, as McGee is a wonderfully colorful writer, lucid and endlessly fascinating.

McGee is truly a Renaissance man when it comes to food, and the book is packed with historical facts, literary anecdotes, and food legends passed down through the ages. For instance, when he talks about dairy products in the first chapter, he also brings up the domestication of the goat, the development of Parmesan, the history of ice cream and the best way to clarify butter. But his writing style is never contrived or pedantic and never gets in the way of the intriguing facts he brings to light. There are great illustrations and almost like a textbook, replete with easy-to-follow charts, graphs, and pictures, On the sidebars of each page, McGee shares insights from the likes of Brillat-Savarin, Plutarch and their culinary brethren along with ancient recipes for ash-roasted eggs, stuffed bonito with pennyroyal, and other delicacies. However, his focus is not purely historical, as he examines with great acuity, modern food production, current health risks and an easy-to-understand lesson on atoms, molecules, and the nature of energy. Rest assured that cooking basics are covered thoroughly.
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