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On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen Hardcover – .dff, November 23, 2004
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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 Now, 20 years later, McGee has taken his slightly outdated volume and turned it into a stunning masterpiece that combines science, linguistics, history, poetry and, of course, gastronomy.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.
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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."
Editors of Scientific American
Top customer reviews
I just finished the sections on animals and their products. I had no idea of the way people around the world handle them. Before I would eat some of them, I would have to be part of a famine of Biblical proportions.
The only thing I don't agree with is his evolutionary history to the advent of historical times. But that is OK because he follows the majority view and it has no impact on the chemistry of food.
The recipe type person is not someone this book would appeal to.
McGee's book has always been one of the essential three or four references in my kitchen. And if you love to cook, you can only find the science of food ingredients fascinating.
I can't improve upon what the other 5-star reviewers have posted. Yes, the book is technical at times, and no, I don't always have enough chemistry background to fully digest certain explanations or decipher some of the chemical diagrams. But that's the beauty of this book: it is still SATISFYINGLY USER-FRIENDLY for the lay reader. It is NOT a food science or chemistry textbook. Someone with absolutely no science background can still reap SO much knowledge--both practical and whimsical--from this book, and never will a reader's academic background prevent him or her from absorbing and understanding the information contained on its pages.
I am beyond pleased with my decision to purchase this book.