Science and Cooking

I love to cook. As one might gather from this blog, I like to keep my hands busy, and cooking saves money and provides deliciousness. (Many other hobbies have more of a knack for consuming money.) I also happen to be very lactose-intolerant, so cooking for myself also greatly benefits my digestive health.

When I was younger, I was absolutely apathetic to cooking, as I suspect many kids are, feeling that it’s house-wifely and unimportant. Then I got out on my own, and, astonishingly, good food was expensive and I had little currency.  I wanted to improve my cooking, but I really didn’t know the rules. But I knew the next best thing: science. Many recently published books explore the relationship between science and cooking. For those of us that can’t remember the baking soda without knowing its chemical purpose, this is a great thing.

Some recommended books:

  • What Einstein Told his Cook by Robert Wolke. The content is good, especially for those less versed in chemistry. The author wrote a newspaper column about cooking, and this book is mostly the compilation of answers to various questions such as “What is the difference between cane sugar and beet sugar?” It contains several recipes illustrating various points of the book. A major emphasis of the book is clarifying common misunderstandings of food science. As someone who knows a lot of science, I sometimes find the answers too basic, but I definitely learned things reading this book.
  • Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Herve This. Of the three books I discuss, this is the one I have had the least time to scrutinize. However, I really like what I have read. Wolke’s book covers more conceptual topics, like the differences between various kinds of salts. This’s book covers more specific topics, like why we marinade roasts in red wine rather than white, or how different kinds of truffles are related. This one is probably most strictly for those interested in cooking, with fewer “gee whiz” moments and more “that would be useful” moments.
  • Cooking for Geeks: Real science, great hacks, and good food by Jeff Potter. This one is definitely the most fun of the three! This book is from the publisher O’Reilly, which does a lot of technical textbooks. This book shares its layout with those kinds of book, but its soul is lighter. Its layout is more varied, as textbooks are. Plus, this book has a fun section about hardware like evaporators and sous vide water baths. Sous vide is involves cooking foods in circulating water baths. It is similar to slow-cooking, but the food is kept in a plastic bag and thus not diluted. Foods can safely and extra-deliciously be cooked at much lower temperatures by this method. Low temperatures denature specific proteins, prevent drying, and, when held for a bit, kill bacteria. This book does a great job explaining why and how sous vide works. I just got a sous vide system myself, and this book has given me some confidence about something I knew very little about. Plus it’s very fun to read, and covers tons of other topics in geek-friendly ways.
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