Many good ideas start with a simple: “Why?”. Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, first published in 1984, comes from wondering about cooking questions such as: Why do eggs solidify when we cook them? Why do we use brown sugar in certain cookies?
There are several On Food and Cooking editions. The first edition emphasizes the relevance of cells and molecules to cooking, the second edition (2004) has been expanded to cover a greater range of ingredients and their preparation methods. McGee’s work, unmatched in accuracy, is a kitchen classic for all avid kitchen dwellers.
What’s cool about the book
On Food and Cooking introduces food science into cooking, which is something that hasn’t been done or thought of about in that way before. It helped pioneer the culinary movement known as “molecular gastronomy.” According to McGee, learning about the chemistry of the food allows cooks to be more creative because they understand what happens to food—its flavor, texture—when it is prepared a certain way.
Even if you do not share McGee’s view, you cannot deny the fact that the book is a monumental work of great gastronomical writing. It discusses all major food categories, such as milk and dairy products, meat, common vegetables, etc., and draws references to historical and literary anecdotes.
Consider the following:
- People who are lactose intolerant cannot digest lactose, or milk sugar. Although milk is highly nutritious, containing protein, calcium, sugars and Vitamin A, B, it was originally intended for growing calf and not for human. In the animal kingdom, fin whale milk ranks that highest in its fat content (42%), followed by reindeer milk (17%), then sheep (7.5%).
- Egg come from an Indo-European root meaning “bird”; Yolk comes from the Old English for “yellow”.
- Most of the herbs used in European cooking are members of TWO plant groups: the mint family (e.g. basil, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage) and the carrot family (e.g. celery, parsley, dill, coriander leaf)
For those curious about the science on food and cooking, you will enjoy this masterpiece. Happy eating (and reading)!