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

(The Science and Lore of the Kitchen #1)

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  14,715 ratings  ·  508 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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Lior Aviram Wikipedia says:
"It is published by Hodder & Stoughton in Britain under the title McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, Histor…more
Wikipedia says:
"It is published by Hodder & Stoughton in Britain under the title McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture."
But I'd like to know if there are any content differences.(less)
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Sep 11, 2007 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
Jul 27, 2007 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
Apr 04, 2008 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 ca ...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
Matthew Iden
May 21, 2012 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
John Burke
Dec 13, 2007 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 th ...more
Dec 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, food
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
Lisa Hawkins
Jul 10, 2010 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
Nick Black
Apr 26, 2011 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!
Monica Lauer
Aug 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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!
Scott Erickson
Mar 11, 2012 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
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
While "On Food and Cooking" was not the type of book that I typically read, I found that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Despite the fact that it took me nearly three months to read, I found just about every single page deeply informative and interesting. At times, the book feels like a textbook that one would read for some sort of chemistry or cooking class, but I wouldn't say that the book as a whole is so dry as a typical textbook. It certainly did a fine job of walking the line between info ...more
Emma Whear
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
What an absolute chunker.

It's a lovely compendium, but stressful to read when you know you'll be quizzed on it.

Areas my knowledge has grown the most:
-differences in types of alcohols
-methods by which coffee is made and the effects
This is the rare book that I am marking as read but not rating. I can't remember where I saw this recommended or what I expected, but it is definitely not for me.

On Food and Cooking is basically a textbook or encyclopedia of ingredients and cooking techniques. There are no recipes and while it might be interesting to flip through once or twice, I can't imagine why I would ever need or want this book. I don't really care that someone reported eating beets around 300 BC or that eggs are 75% water.
Mar 17, 2014 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
Nov 17, 2012 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 se ...more
Feb 10, 2010 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. ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Finally! I'm not sure how many people read this book cover to cover, but I did! I learned a lot about food and cooking food and feel this has already helped me become a better cook. Probably too dry for most people, though, especially if you're not into the minutia of cooking... down to how atoms and molecules react. I learned about this book from the HarvardX class on EdX called: Science & Cooking. A great class if you're into cooking and/or science. ...more
Apr 19, 2008 rated it liked it
This is the most hardcore, badass book about food I have ever seen. Any time you want to know what you're actually doing when you're in the kitchen, this will spell it out for you. If the OED had a one night stand with your O-Chem textbook while watching to food network, this would be their lovechild. ...more
Elizabeth Theiss Smith
Mar 28, 2012 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! ...more
Rod Greener
Apr 16, 2013 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.
Jan 25, 2016 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. ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is not a cookbook, but rather the context for all cookbooks: a stupendous compendium of how food -- every type of food -- works. It is heavy on chemistry (and its closing pages are a chemistry primer I wish I'd had in high school; read this first), but also patient explanations that a layperson / foodie will like: What is emulsification? Why do so many foods turn brown on exposure to air? How does the Maillard reaction work, and why is it the greatest thing to hit the culinary art since well ...more
Asimenia Phantasmagoria
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's like an encyclopedia of food. It took me months to finish it but it was worth it. I feel i can trust everything he writes and the references at the end of the book are endless. I wish it would have more examples of common mistakes in the kitchen that could be explained by theory. ...more
Cari Sly
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating! Looking forward to adding this as a culinary reference
Rafael Meirelles
Apr 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Another essential book for cooks and foodies :)
Luke Gruber
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Alas, it is finished. This book has all the intricate details of everything food. It’s referenced in every other cookbook I’ve read as “the encyclopedia of food.” However, keep it for reference.

It’s too dry to read cover to cover, unless of course you’re fascinated by the lineage of food. Where it started, how it transformed, and how it’s used today.

Also, it’s heavy on chemistry. I suggest to read the appendix first. It’s a refresher crash course.

Overall, way less practical than I hoped for you
Nov 12, 2009 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
Eva Gogola
Dec 12, 2015 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
Sep 26, 2012 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.
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Harold James McGee is an American author who writes about the chemistry and history of food science and cooking. He is best known for his seminal book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen initially published in 1984 and revised in 2004.

McGee is a visiting scholar at Harvard University. His book On Food and Cooking has won numerous awards and is used widely in food science cours

Other books in the series

The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2 books)
  • The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore

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