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On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (The Science and Lore of the Kitchen #1)

4.48  ·  Rating Details ·  10,582 Ratings  ·  429 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, Revised, Second Edition, 896 pages
Published November 16th 2004 by Scribner (first published 1984)
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Community Reviews

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Dec 17, 2009 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Cooks, Chefs, the scientifically minded, and programmers for Personal Chef Robots of the future.
This book is endlessly fascinating. Interesting tidbits McGee's has taught me: raw pineapple will curdle milk, but cooked pineapple will not. Some of our fellow humans will be repulsed by cheese because of an instinctual reaction to fermented foods. See? Fascinating!

McGee's contains necessary information that you can not get from a recipe on practically every dish and ingredient known to man. This is the kind of book that will sit next to the stove, dog-eared and grease-spattered, eternally usef
Apr 04, 2008 Cynthia rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: foodies, lovers of trivia, history buffs
Before there was Alton Brown, there was Harold McGee. This is a smart, dazzling, fabulously eclectic collection of information about what we eat. From Plato’s views on cooking to electron micrographs of cheese to a description of how eggs form in a chicken’s body to the history of beer and chocolate, this book offers an intoxicating wealth of food information, trivia, and science. Did you know that the cell walls of mushrooms aren’t made up of cellulose, like plants, but rather of chitin, the ...more
Dec 29, 2013 David rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mathematicians, scientists
Once upon a time, I was expressing my frustration with books on cooking to a chemist friend -- primarily that most books on cooking treat cooking as this magical art. They presume lots of knowledge on the part of the reader and they give directions that theoretically make the food what it's supposed to be, rarely explaining WHY you want to cook this meat at temperature x or mince this thing instead of slice, or whatever. I wanted something that answered a bit more of the Why?

This friend suggeste
John Burke
Dec 13, 2007 John Burke rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in how food works
This is an invaluable resource when your kids ask "does THIS cheese have mold in it" or "why does it all stick together if you cook it too long" or when you want to know what makes espresso different from coffee. Is is not about cooking, but about why and how cooking works, about where the flavor is in the spices and why the tomato ripens, what makes a sauce a sauce instead of gravy or soup, and what nougat really is. The style is accessible but unafraid of chemistry. A wonderful companion to ...more
Feb 01, 2011 Hirondelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, science
I think I am going to be currently reading this for a very very long time. Its 800 pages, small print, massive index (essential) and bibliography. Human imagination and cultural complexity regarding food being as it is, not even 800 pages will be enough, so I dont think it has EVERYTHING on food but it does have practically everything of the most common kind, in a wide global way.

First thing - this is not a recipe book and it is a pretty serious book. You can use it as dictionary, using the ver
Matthew Iden
May 21, 2012 Matthew Iden rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who eat
Recommended to Matthew by: Found it on a library shelf
On Food and Cooking is one of those few books that I can drop on a table, let it fall open to any page, and read for the next hour.

As I said to someone once: you may not cook, but you probably eat. If so, this book should keep you entranced. Nearly anything you might want to know about the history, etymology, and process of gastronomy is covered in this volume, but even that is too dry a description to really explain how fun it is.

Want to know why there are so many Sugar Loaf mountains around
The 2nd edition. Concentrated knowledge; yet NOT written in impenetrable ‘academicalese.’ McGee's ability to amass, sort, analyse, and order an enormous amount of relevant information is awesomely impressive. He makes the average PhD. thesis look sheepish.

This is definitely a reference book to be laid open on a table and lovingly dipped into by an enquiring mind. Not held open in the hands: too heavy. However, I’ll keep my (much smaller) copy of the 1st edition, because I want to follow how McGe
Nick Black
Aug 17, 2016 Nick Black rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nick by: new yorker
At $25, it's rather more palatable (pun intended!) than Modernist Cuisine's $675, and was referenced in the same New Yorker article. According to GnuCash, I spent more money last year on cigarettes than groceries; changing that seems a noble enough objective. I'll likely start by stocking pepper.

btw, wenger, i dig your taking up of my "*-acquire*" bookshelf semantics!
Lisa Hawkins
Dec 19, 2013 Lisa Hawkins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It would be a stretch to say that I am a cook or a 'foodie', but I imagine that every culinary master in America must own this book.

This is NOT a cookbook -- it's a guide to food, a dynamic explanation about where your food comes from, the science behind how it cooks/blends/rises and how preparation techniques impact taste.

It's a book that is hard to peg, and not one that you'll read cover-to-cover in one sitting. The writing is succinct but not tedious to follow, and every chapter packs in a s
Scott Erickson
Jul 21, 2012 Scott Erickson rated it it was amazing
This is a truly epic book. It covers food from every relevant angle: gastronomically, biologically, chemically, historically, culturally. It's exhaustive and, as a result, can be exhausting sometimes. It took a month of fairly regular reading to finish, and I skipped some parts. But if you read this book from cover to cover, you probably should skip some of it, too. It covers so many aspects of nourishment that while you're basically guaranteed to find parts that are interesting or intriguing to ...more
Nov 28, 2009 pinknantucket rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
OK so I didn't read absolutely every word of this book, but it's over 800 pages and I reckon I read more than enough of them to equal a decently long novel. I'm actually reading it for my thesis, what with McGee being a pre-eminent food scientist and all, and it's so much more pleasurable to read than your average science textbook. Describing the science behind food - why does bread rise? Why should you start stocks with cold water? - McGee takes you not only through the science but also into ...more
Mar 17, 2014 Diana rated it liked it
Very comprehensive book for the average person who is really into food. It goes into the historical and scientific background of various foods. The writing style is easy to follow, so there's no getting lost with this book!

I found the author's writing style to be a little too flowery, but it may just be that I am not enough of a food connoisseur to understand some of his descriptions. For example, he describes buffalo milk as being barnyardy and reminiscent of mushrooms and freshly-cut grass. Th
Jan 30, 2014 Vicky rated it really liked it
When I ruined cream sauce by cooking it at a too hot temperature (so that instead of thickening, the cream just broke down into water and oil), I thought I needed to know a little more about exactly what was going on when I cooked. I asked my brother (scientist and cook) to get me something like that for my birthday, and he sent this book. Lots of interesting information for cooking geeks. I am not sure yet if it has improved my cooking, but it's still fun to read. Most interesting to me: the ...more
Feb 10, 2010 Greymalkin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, cookbook
Such a fun and interesting book. As a foodie and a scientist I appreciate his approach to cooking and food. I also love the sense of joyful curiosity that suffuses the book. I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Harold McGee and he is still just as charming and enthusiastic as he seems in the book. He had so many interesting facts to impart that I wished the talk was three times as long. I'd love to sit down and chat with him.
Elizabeth Theiss
Mar 01, 2013 Elizabeth Theiss rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Who knew that food science could keep you up late at night? This is a can't-put-it-down explanation of how cooking, pickling,preserving, fluffing, rising, kneading and all manner of other cooking techniques work. I return to McGee's explanations again and again. I am a better cook and a more appreciative eater as a result. Bravo Mr. McGee!
Eva Gogola
Jan 12, 2016 Eva Gogola rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food
This book is a MUST for the kitchen. I was never one for math, chemistry or any sort of science until I started cooking. This book is a great resource and packed tight with incredibly interesting food knowledge.
John Croutch
Oct 01, 2012 John Croutch rated it it was amazing
If you love cooking and want to know the minutiae of the science behind cooking, then this book is for you.
Esteban Siravegna
Feb 09, 2016 Esteban Siravegna rated it really liked it
Great reading about a lot of facts on cooking, or debunking a lot of urban legends such as 'sealing' the meat in order to preserve tenderness.
Rod Greener
May 06, 2013 Rod Greener rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: serious foodies, chefs,
Recommended to Rod by: Le Cordon Bleu culinary school
The finest book on food science and food history on the market!

I will never actually be done reading as I go back to it all the time.
Nov 16, 2010 _topo_ rated it it was amazing
tutto ma proprio tutto quello che si vuole sapere sul cibo, dal punto di vista storico, gastronomico, biologico...
Jan 16, 2015 Claudia rated it really liked it
Of course i did not read it all, used it selectively as reference.
Jason Lowry
Oct 25, 2016 Jason Lowry rated it really liked it
A great reference book on gastronomy and the history of food in general. Once you open this book it is really hard to put down.
Julie H.
I so wish we'd had a copy of McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen when I was growing up and just learning to bake and cook. It contains all the amazing food science stuff we annoyed our parents with (e.g., but what does the baking soda doooooo?) and then some. I had the good fortune to score a copy on the giveaway table at work. Clearly, there is an up side to an office move.

This would make a welcome reference to any set of cookery books and a lovely gift to any up-an
Jul 16, 2013 Darren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This big, heavy book is one of those reference works that serious amateur and professional cooks alike should look at if they really want to get an understanding about the food they are preparing and cooking. Yet sadly, one fears, not as many will.

Their knowledge and their food may be the worse for this, as this book is a veritable cornucopia of information about cooking processes, ingredients, scientific principles, history and much more besides. It is not the easiest of reads, it can be challe
Sep 27, 2016 Aileen rated it really liked it
I'd call this the predecessor of food lab. Chock full of information about food science you wouldn't otherwise know. I'll be buying this book and revisiting in a while.
Feb 10, 2014 Terri rated it it was amazing
This book takes the world of cooking down to the molecular level and is fascinating. What Harold McGee has accomplished in this book phenomenal.

To understand what's happening in food we cook we need to be familiar with the world of molecules and their reaction to one another. McGee thoroughly explains what's going on in that realm so that you know what makes mayonnaise work, or how the skins, seeds and stems of the grape affect winemaking.

"Curiosity and understanding make their own contribution
They Lived on Treacle
Apr 04, 2016 They Lived on Treacle rated it it was amazing
Harold McGee’s Food and Cooking is peerless. It is the alpha and omega of food science writing. If there is anything you want to know about the whys and wherefores of cooking, you will find the answer here. Want to know the temperature at which eggs coagulate? It’s here. Want to know what happens to gluten as you knead? McGee explains. With pictures. It is a staggeringly useful book that should be on any serious baker’s shelf. The strength of McGee’s book lies in its thoroughness, but this alone ...more
Oct 28, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee is by far the most complete and detailed work in the genre. It is fascinating and fun to read, with easy-to-understand explanations of the chemical and biological makeup of each food it covers. This book explains why and how various cooking techniques affect each food substance and how to tell when the food begins to spoil. The text's fifteen chapters cover milk and dairy, eggs, meat, fish and shellfish, edible plants, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, ...more
Jan 02, 2013 Martha rated it it was amazing
This latest edition is longer. It adds quite a bit information, especially practical and science stuff. They cut some of the lore, though, to make room for the new info.

For instance, in the earlier version (On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen), you learn that in the 15th century Germany, they burned and buried people alive as punishment for adulterating saffron. Okay, so maybe that's something you'd rather not know, and it sounds apocryphal anyway, but you get the idea. And
Jun 18, 2013 Tomekia rated it it was amazing
I am a food nerd, okay I said it. I majored in food in college. I have taken collegiate: food science, food safety etc. I watch Alton Brown because I love the science of food. I read cookbooks like novels. I LOVE this book for the history and the science. I love the obscure facts (like the comparison in nutrient breakdown of different animals milk). If I were going to teach a food science class this is the book I would use as a textbook. My other favorite reference book (no recipes) on food is ...more
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