Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Hardcover – April 23, 2013
|New from||Used from|
Enhance your purchase
The Amazon Book Review
Book recommendations, author interviews, editors' picks, and more. Read it now.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
- Publisher : Penguin Press; 1st edition (April 23, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594204217
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594204210
- Item Weight : 1.65 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.38 x 1.43 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #339,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
If you are already a Michael Pollan fan, you appreciate his meticulous attention to detail in his research and his lucid prose. I swear, this guy could take the most complicated subject on the planet and make it accessible to his readers. In Cooked, I think he has reached a new peak in his powers of synthesis and observation.
Cooked is divided into four parts, analogous to the four elements described by the ancient Greeks: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Of these, it was the section on Earth (fermentation) that really made me sit up and take notice. He brings up so many important points about how our Western diet fails us every day, making our lifespans shorter and our health more precarious.
In its way, Cooked is as important a book about health and nutrition as Diet for a Small Planet was when it first appeared in the 1970s. This book will make you think, give you tools to improve your health, and explain how cooking a meal from scratch in your own kitchen becomes an act of rebellion.
So worth your time and the purchase price.
The book first discusses using fire and water for cooking. It covers topics such as the Maillard reaction, which gives food flavor, and the way a stewpot acts as a second stomach, in a sense, predigesting foods and opening up their nutritional value.
I found the final section of the book, on fermentation, the most interesting. Fermentation ("cold fire") uses microorganisms to digest foods partially and to create flavors. The book highlights several key fermented foods – in particular, bread, wine, and cheese – and discusses various aspects of the fermentation process.
First, considering bread, fermentation allows us to readily use grasses for food and reclaim much more solar energy. The book suggests that ~90 percent of the energy in food is lost at each step of the food pyramid; thus, being able to eat grass directly is a major triumph of the agricultural revolution. Of course, nowadays, we have taken this fantastic process even further and essentially industrialized grass in the form of white bread -- taking out much of the original nutrients, including fiber, and then putting different nutrients back in. Another exciting aspect of baking bread is what Pollan describes as an emergent phenomenon. Most other forms of cooking, for instance, heating by fire or warming in a pot, involve a simple extrapolation of the preparation conditions. Baking bread is different. It is a "system property," where one combines various ingredients and makes something completely different than the original constituents. Pollan also describes how gluten acts almost like an elastic to create cavities in bread that can fill with gas and facilitate rising.
The next fermented food Pollan discusses is wine. To make it clear how easy it is to achieve fermentation, he shares humorous stories from his childhood of fermenting grape juice and having the vessel burst. He also brings up a philosophical question of whether we have domesticated Saccharomyces cerevisiae or whether it has domesticated us: alcohol itself, which is the product of many fermentations, is toxic to most organisms, yet we have evolved enzymes and pathways in our liver to break it down. Pollan also talks about how one can understand the different flavors of wine in terms of the various microorganisms available. Humans, in a sense, have co-evolved with wine and can benefit from having a glass a day based on a variety of health indicators.
The final section on fermentation talks about cheese. Cheese represents the product of rotting or decay in its extreme. Pollan describes cheese fermentation as a multistep process where, initially, microorganisms aerobically colonize the center of a bit of milk, digesting it partially and raising its pH, but eventually, the increasing acidity fouls the microbes' nest. Then, there is effectively an ecological succession where other species of bacteria replace the initial microbes; this continues to raise the pH. What I found most interesting is that a secondary fermentation then occurs from the outside of the cheese, where yeasts – which are aerobic – send in their hyphae and partially neutralize the increasing pH. The competition between these different fermentations gives rise to new chemistries, flavors, and compounds.
Cheese is also unusual in that it represents the nexus for competition between two current groups of people: the fermentos, those who believe in the importance of microorganisms for health and for giving food its flavors, and the Pasteurians, those who want to purge all foods of microbes. Their differences are evident when choosing a vessel for making cheese: should it be made out of old rotten, moldy wood or modern stainless steel?
The overall discussion of fermented foods points to the legacy of the agricultural revolution and the great importance of microbes in day-to-day life.
Altogether, I highly recommend this book. I find myself revisiting many of the book's points when I enjoy various meals and purchase things at the grocery store.
The rest of the book was great! Pollan is an excellent writer who takes you on a wonderful journey. He knows how to tell a story while mixing in relevant facts (minus the one I mentioned above) to make the story interesting. Definitely worth reading.
Top reviews from other countries
Surprisingly easy to read, as well.
A great gift for a foodie friend. Not too technical, not too long, I loved it.