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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 Now, 20 years later, McGee has taken his slightly outdated volume and turned it into a stunning masterpiece that combines science, linguistics, history, poetry and, of course, gastronomy.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.
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."
Editors of Scientific American
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The author covers a wide variety of types of foods and food issues. It starts with seections based on food types. Milk and milk products are the first. Once you read about the chemical, physical and aesthetic properties of a food, you want to go out and try the foods or food combinations yourself.
The revised edition is significantly different from the original. If you are the type of person who likes the science behind food, you will probably also be the type who cares whether your information is up to date. If you are more of a chemistry dilettante like me, you will appreciate the interesting writing style and the relevance to current cooking and nutrition issues. If you are a science-oriented 10 year old, you will enjoy telling your classmates and teachers lurid details about what they are currently chewing. Since you can cloak these lurid details in legitimate basic science, the teachers generally have to let you keep talking.
This book explains the "why" of the way ingredients mix together to make a tasty or unpalatable food. While this is not a recipe cookbook, the author does provide valuable information on how to choose and store foods to ensure the best quality. Understanding the basic principles of food chemistry enables a cook to improvise and sometimes sustitute ingredients. It explains how the different constitutents of milk influence the milk's properties. This in turn helps explain how we arrive at different properties of cheeses. the author takes you from the overall look of the food down to the molecular level.
The book helps one understand food safety and spoilage. Advances in our understanding of food safety are reflected in this book.
In sum, I recommend this book for erudite cooks and chemists, as well as diletanttes (like me) who want to know more about selected foods. I would not recommend this as bedtime reading for most 10 year olds, but for a certain subset--the type of kid who is always asking "why" it might be a good source of answers.
(And yes, I read him regular books when it is my turn to do bedtime stories.)
Next, the book. I had McGhee's first edition (blue) I bought over 20 years ago and now I have this updated version. Let me say it is indispensable and I LOVE IT. By reading this book you will be able to understand many techniques and not only that why things happen in your kitchen. I can easily believe that it is a required reference book for professional chefs. It helps me understand things b etter in the kitchen so I can answer questions and give thorough answers to my girls as they are learning to cook.
So, yes, this book is great and only compliments a well stocked and referenced kitchen.