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On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
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On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

4.49 of 5 stars 4.49  ·  rating details  ·  8,138 ratings  ·  383 reviews
A classic tome of gastronomic science and lore, On Food and Cooking delivers an erudite discussion of table ingredients and their interactions with our bodies. Following the historical, literary, scientific and practical treatment of foodstuffs from dairy to meat to vegetables, McGee explains the nature of digestion and hunger before tackling basic ingredient components, c ...more
Paperback, 684 pages
Published February 1st 1997 by Scribner (first published 1984)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Elizabeth
Sep 25, 2007 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Cynthia
Apr 04, 2008 Cynthia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
David
Jul 27, 2007 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
John Burke
Dec 13, 2007 John Burke rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Hirondelle
I think I am going to be currently reading this for a very very long time. It´s 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 don´t 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 v
...more
Matthew Iden
May 21, 2012 Matthew Iden rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Diana
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
...more
Harry Doble
On Food and Cooking is a masterpiece. Meticulously researched and lovingly crafted down to the last detail, Harold McGee has compiled a book that transcends beyond an effective food science manual to a thoroughly entertaining journey that takes the reader right throughout history. There is so much fascinating trivia in this book to relish, but its advice about how cooking really works is where it shines brightest. The guidance provided will help anyone in the kitchen fill in the gaps and make ap ...more
^
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
...more
Lisa Hawkins
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
...more
pinknantucket
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
Jonathan
I can't rightly rate this book as I simply couldn't get into it. The science is heavy for me, though admittedly I don't find science fascinating in its technicalities so much as in its accomplishments. A friend of mine recently shared that he doesn't believe someone a true food lover if they don't like to cook. By that logic, I am not a science lover. I love the products of science, but I am not enamored of the processes necessary to make those products. I imagine that is why I didn't take much ...more
Vicky
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
Terri
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
...more
Monica Lauer
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!
Greymalkin
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.
Tara Brabazon
Terrific. Absolutely Terrific. And oddly distinctive. Certain paradigms and topics encourage interdisciplinarity. Food is one of those topics. What makes this Harold McGee book fascinating is the evocative combination of humanities and science theories. The science of food and cooking is revealed, while also probing the cultural systems encircling meat, coffee, nightshades, milk and an array of fruit and vegetables.

This is a big book. It is an 'encyclopedia'. But unlike the conventional encyclop
...more
Rod Greener
May 06, 2013 Rod Greener rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
John Croutch
If you love cooking and want to know the minutiae of the science behind cooking, then this book is for you.
Jennifer
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, see ...more
Scott Erickson
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
Tomekia
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
Albert Ainstain
The book provides a reference to the scientific understanding and preparation of food. It has been described by Alton Brown as "the Rosetta stone of the culinary world", Daniel Boulud has called the book a "must for every cook who possesses an inquiring mind", while Heston Blumenthal has stated it is "the book that has had the greatest single impact on my cooking".

The work is separated into sections that focus on the ingredients, providing the structure for the author to speculate on the history
...more
Darren
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
...more
Martha
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
...more
Olga
Это целая энциклопедия про то, что мы едим. О всех продуктах питания рассказывается с исторической и, главное, с научной стороны - можно узнать, почему (и как) яичные белки взбиваются в пену, что за бактерии сидят в йогуртах, и т.п. При этом написано доступным, нормальным языком.
По-моему, это мастрид для всех - мы же все едим, но знаем о том, что именно мы едим, очень мало. А эта книга, наконец-то, всё расскажет.

(Полностью это прочесть сложно, удобнее по тематическим главам, как получится)
Krista Cameron
Whenever I have a question about food, I always turn to McGee's book on Food and Cooking. It is the one of my most trustworthy sources of information and has helped immensely especially when I've tried to understand ingredients from other countries so that I can find the right substitution or how to adapt it my tastes.

This book is very technical and isn't for everyone but personally, I haven't found a better resource on food and cooking.
^
Forward by Alan Davidson.
The book is well illustrated with annotated drawings, and photographs.

A very clever and highly readable blend of historical lore and scientific explanation. Enormously helpful, because it indirectly teaches the reader how to analytically read a recipe for coherence and sense; and thus to avoid wasting time, money, and energy attempting poorly written recipes which rarely, or never, work.

There's plenty in this book for both the scientist and the non-scientist. By understa
...more
Chrissie
Jun 17, 2009 Chrissie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who cooks or with questions about food.
Recommended to Chrissie by: University Lecturer
Shelves: reference
This book was at the top of my textbook list for Food Science subjects in first year University. Don´t let that put you off, as I do believe that this book should be on every cookbook shelf. Often when people ask me for advice on food and cooking (usually some ingredient not working as it should, or explanations of ´why is it so...?´); I use this book as one of my references to double check I am dispensing solid information.

Harold McGee is a world renowned fountain of knowledge when it comes to
...more
Matt Musselman
For an encyclopedia-style book like this I don't know if a person can easily distinguish "read" vs. "currently reading", but I've read enough of it to know that this is the most comprehensive, well-researched, and informative book on food and food ingredients I've ever seen.

Part science textbook, part history lesson, and part cooking instruction manual, the book delves into the technical reasons food ingredients behave the ways they do, the histories of their use in various dishes, and advice fo
...more
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