On food and cooking the science and lore of the kitchen

by Cuisiner Harold McGee

Paper Book, 1997

Status

Available

Publication

New York Fireside 1997

Description

Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is a kitchen classic. Hailed by Time magazine as "a minor masterpiece" when it first appeared in 1984, On Food and Cooking is the bible to which food lovers and professional chefs worldwide turn for an understanding of where our foods come from, what exactly they're made of, and how cooking transforms them into something new and delicious. Now, for its twentieth anniversary, Harold McGee has prepared a new, fully revised and updated edition of On Food and Cooking. He has rewritten the text almost completely, expanded it by two-thirds, and commissioned more than 100 new illustrations. As compulsively readable and engaging as ever, the new On Food and Cooking provides countless eye-opening insights into food, its preparation, and its enjoyment. On Food and Cooking pioneered the translation of technical food science into cook-friendly kitchen science and helped give birth to the inventive culinary movement known as "molecular gastronomy." Though other books have now been written about kitchen science, On Food and Cooking remains unmatched in the accuracy, clarity, and thoroughness of its explanations, and the intriguing way in which it blends science with the historical evolution of foods and cooking techniques. Among the major themes addressed throughout this new edition are: Traditional and modern methods of food production and their influences on food quality, the great diversity of methods by which people in different places and times have prepared the same ingredients, tips for selecting the best ingredients and preparing them successfully, the particular substances that give foods their flavors and that give us pleasure, and our evolving knowledge of the health benefits and risks of foods. On Food and Cooking is an invaluable and monumental compendium of basic information about ingredients, cooking methods, and the pleasures of eating. It will delight and fascinate anyone who has ever cooked, savored, or wondered about food.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member
Comparing the sections between the earlier edition and later edition of this book made me realize that they actually are complementary but written with very different viewpoints. The first book is all about the science. Some conclusions are applied to food but it always comes back to scientific information as the heart of the material. The second book is first and foremost about applying science to cooking. This may sound like a slight difference and there probably is a better way to describe it but it makes a world of difference when reading the book. Therefore the new Protein section is all about what happens to foods high in protein when heat is applied, or acid is added, etc.

This does not make the new book either superior or inferior. However, it is important to understand that it is a different book. Whether you use it simply depends on what sort of information you need and how you plan to apply it. I am still thoroughly enjoying McGee's new version and am sure it will all come in handy with practical cooking situations. However, when it comes to matters of hard-core science ... only the old version will suffice. In my view, McGee has produced a two-volume set and I plan on using both often.
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LibraryThing member wenestvedt
I like to think that, while I don't know everything, I do know where to look it up. And this book is where I turn to most often: it tells me which fruit ripen faster in a paper bag (thank you, ethylene!), whether or not to refrigerate apples (wisdom which is trumped by my wife's preference), and what the bubbles in bread dough come from (in language, with pictures, that even my kids understand).

Advances in the state of the art may render some of the information out of date, but it will be a long time before it's all put together between two covers that make me want to throw out my McGee.
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LibraryThing member CPeterman
When I want to understand the muscle fiber structure of octopus, or learn about the history and definition of pumpernickel bread, or figure out how the qualities of corn syrup differ from that of honey, I turn to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. This is an impressively extensive reference book of ingredients, cooking techniques, food history, and food science. The information is grouped in chapters such as Milk and Dairy Products, Meat, and Edible Plants, with a nice chemistry primer covering atoms, molecules and energy at the end. A staggering amount of information is packed into each chapter ranging from interesting facts, history and detailed descriptions to excellent illustrations.

McGee dedicates 68 pages to eggs, covering such topics as how a hen makes an egg, why yolks sometimes turn green when cooked, the eight different proteins that make up an egg white along with their natural function and culinary properties (did you know ovalbumin is 54% of the total protein in albumen and it sets when heated to 180˚F?), plus, a silly cook's joke about cooking eggs on a spit from book printed in the 1400s, and fourteen pages on egg foams. Whew! If you have any tendencies toward research, you will be lost in the pages from the moment you open the cover.
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LibraryThing member chaingang
Though the first edition was excellent, if you have an older copy, getting the new edition ( 2004 ) is well worth your time and trouble.
LibraryThing member eichin
Ever wonder if copper bowls *really* make a difference when whipping egg whites? McGee includes both protein folding theory and spectrophotometer evidence. No shortage of electron microscope photographs either - but it's not *just* hardcore science geekery, he takes you through history and real science (repeatable experiments!)
LibraryThing member jontseng
One of the most significant books on food written in the last fifty years. Notable for its breadth of coverage. A book which asks why rather than tells you how.
LibraryThing member jontseng
The first edition is utterly a fascinating and historic, but suffers from textbook-like presentation.
LibraryThing member Popup-ch
Very impressive cook-book - without recipes.
Explains in fascinating (and amusing) detail what happens when ingredients become food.
LibraryThing member KWallgren
This is a great book full of interesting information on food and cooking science and history. My only complaint is that it is not ideal for quick reference, it reads more like a text book than an encyclopedia.
LibraryThing member
Comparing the sections between the earlier edition and later edition of this book made me realize that they actually are complementary but written with very different viewpoints. The first book is all about the science. Some conclusions are applied to food but it always comes back to scientific information as the heart of the material. The second book is first and foremost about applying science to cooking. This may sound like a slight difference and there probably is a better way to describe it but it makes a world of difference when reading the book. Therefore the new Protein section is all about what happens to foods high in protein when heat is applied, or acid is added, etc.

This does not make the new book either superior or inferior. However, it is important to understand that it is a different book. Whether you use it simply depends on what sort of information you need and how you plan to apply it. I am still thoroughly enjoying McGee's new version and am sure it will all come in handy with practical cooking situations. However, when it comes to matters of hard-core science ... only the old version will suffice. In my view, McGee has produced a two-volume set and I plan on using both often.
… (more)
LibraryThing member BrianDewey
A classic. I still need to read cover to cover.
LibraryThing member donmccrmck
A wonderful book that explains the chemistry and physics of cooking in great detail. Although it has the occasional explanation of how to cook a particular dish, it is not a cookbook, but a scientific explanation for what's going on in the kitchen. It's what Alton Brown might have written as a Ph. D. thesis.
LibraryThing member ehines
Title pretty much says it all. McGee gives you some very digestible tidbits of food science while also telling you the history & tradition of the foods and techniques he's covering. Far from exhaustive, but not meant to be. It is fairly comprehensive, though. McGee wisely breaks the text down into small sections and gives you the skinny on a huge range of food-related topics in deft, literate prose. There's also a solid. fifteen-page bibliography for those who do go in for exhaustive knowledge on any of the topics he treats. This is a food book for folks that love food but not necessarily food books. It gives you a quick and pleasant way to satiate and stimulate your curiosity about practically any food topic.… (more)
LibraryThing member icadams
One of the few books to look at the science that is behind the art of cooking food. This is not a cookbook though it does contain a great deal of tips, hints and instructions to help with cooking. It is really a book for looking up specific subjects, like an encyclopedia, or for reading a few pages at a time, when nothing else is available. It is an extraordinary book that every serious chef should own as a reference.… (more)
LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
This is an amazingly comprehensive study of the history, sociology, chemistry, and physics of human food and its preparation and preservation. I'd checked it out of the library expecting to read it, but it's more of a reference book than a book to be read.
LibraryThing member slothman
A really excellent look at the underlying physical phenomena that go on in the process of cooking; this is one of Alton Brown’s top references. McGee covers the physics and chemistry at a level that should be easy for anyone who made it through high school AP Chemistry and accessible to anyone who finds Scientific American readable. In addition to the science, he also includes interesting vignettes of history and etymology, including excerpts from historical cookbooks.

I don’t do a lot of cooking (yet), but in my limited areas of experience, there were some good a-ha moments. This would be a good book to keep on hand to reference any time you work with a particular ingredient or technique to deepen your understanding and suggest new possibilities. It would also be a good book for any high school chemistry teacher to keep on hand to interest a student who knows more about cooking, or to make cooking more interesting for a science type.… (more)
LibraryThing member bunwat
Not a cookbook. Everything you ever might want to know about how food works. How ice cream is made, why bread rises, what kind of molds are in cheese, what are the parts of an egg. And yet, readable. Brill. May however, make you annoy your friends with "well you know, cheese on the Asian steppe in the late Iron Age..."
LibraryThing member Eoin
I love this book. Full of exactly what I wanted to know without knowing what it was I wanted. It works beautifully as a general reference and can be read straight. If you eat, read this book.
LibraryThing member lexmccall
I think I will always be "currently reading" this book, because I refer to it so often (it sits with my regular cookbooks, even though it hasn't got actual recipes). But I think I can truthfully move it to the "read" shelf. This is an absolute essential for anyone who likes to cook or likes to eat, and likes knowing more about the foods they cook and eat.… (more)
LibraryThing member jsburbidge
Absolutely classic reference book on cookery and food in general, and not only useful and informative but readable.
LibraryThing member rrriles
World's best (and possibly only) kitchen / bathroom book. Highly recommended.

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