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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 ·  10,906 Ratings  ·  434 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
ebook, 896 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Scribner (first published 1984)
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Sep 11, 2007 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 ca ...more
Jul 27, 2007 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 th ...more
Dec 17, 2010 Hirondelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Nick Black
Apr 26, 2011 Nick Black rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
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
Lisa Hawkins
Jul 10, 2010 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
Mar 11, 2012 Scott Erickson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 12, 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 so ...more
Mar 17, 2014 Diana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 17, 2012 Vicky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 se ...more
Feb 10, 2010 Greymalkin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Monica Lauer
Aug 26, 2012 Monica Lauer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being a total food nerd, this book was heaven for me. I am curious about the chemistry, preparation and anthropology of food and McGee has all of those bases covered. If you cannot handle information purveyed to you in a dry, textbook-like manner this is not the book for you. However if you want to know everything there is to know about eggs, milk, herbs, veggies, meat and more and why they all work together so well (or don't) you definitely need to pick this one up!
Elizabeth Theiss
Mar 28, 2012 Elizabeth Theiss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 12, 2015 Eva Gogola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 26, 2012 John Croutch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you love cooking and want to know the minutiae of the science behind cooking, then this book is for you.
Esteban Siravegna
Jan 25, 2016 Esteban Siravegna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 16, 2015 Claudia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Of course i did not read it all, used it selectively as reference.
Rod Greener
Apr 16, 2013 Rod Greener rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
tutto ma proprio tutto quello che si vuole sapere sul cibo, dal punto di vista storico, gastronomico, biologico...
Maximum Peaches
Feb 11, 2017 Maximum Peaches rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone curious for a systematic, well-researched survey of cooking methods
I learned a lot from On Food and Cooking. I've been buying frozen vegetables for a while and reheating them in the microwave in a bowl. I learned the microwave only heats food down to about an inch and that heating vegetables can destroy vitamins in them. Now I'll spread the vegetables on a plate about an inch deep so they don't get overcooked. It teaches the common ways of cooking and I found out why the meat I'd been cooking was coming out tasting dry. It covers the healthiness of foods but fo ...more
Jason Lowry
Oct 24, 2016 Jason Lowry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Felix Pütsch
Mar 12, 2017 Felix Pütsch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anything you ever wanted to know about food, ingredients and cooking. Actually *more* than you ever wanted to know. This book is a treasure trove of knowledge on anything food, covering vocabulary, chemistry, processes, and culture.
Jun 04, 2012 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
Elizabeth Sims
Mar 09, 2017 Elizabeth Sims rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cooking, science
A one-of-a-kind read, essential to the bookcase of any serious cook.
Mar 03, 2017 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Know all about food.
Feb 10, 2014 Terri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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