5 Science Books Every Cook Should Read


People love to ask me what my favorite cookbooks are. And they’re often disappointed when I recommend a slew of science books instead of the kind of artsy cookbooks that belong on a coffee table.

Why science?

Really great cooks work smart, not hard, and they share a deep understanding of how and why ingredients, time, and temperature interact with each other. This knowledge helps you take control, so you can develop the flavor and texture you want at every stage of the cooking process. Having a scientific understanding of food also helps you think things through, so you can fix mistakes that might otherwise seem impossible to fix (like over-whipped egg whites) and avoid future missteps. More importantly, science-based cookbooks like these will make you a more skilled and adaptable cook and give you the confidence to take on any challenge in the kitchen.

There are a number of useful books on food science; below are a few that I have relied on and consulted over and over again.

Since McGee About food and cooking was first published in 1984, this comprehensive book, organized by ingredient, has become a must-have for professional chefs and home cooks alike. While you can certainly read the book cover to cover, I treat it like an encyclopedia and visit it whenever I have a question about something specific: How does gluten work? How do you refresh a loaf of stale bread? Why are egg yolks such good emulsifiers? McGee patiently guides his readers through each chapter with detailed explanations and clear illustrations. In the best possible way, it almost feels like a very cool science teacher tells you how to cook dinner.

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Traditions of Cooking

by Harold McGee

The term “molecular gastronomy” was invented in 1988 by chemist Hervé This (pronounced “teess”) and Nicholas Kurti, professor of physics at Oxford University. An entire book on “molecular gastronomy” may seem daunting, but this book turns the page. What – as writer Aimee Lee Ball called “The favorite gastronomic mad scientist of the French”-is charming and humorous, and takes care to use clear, concise language that is easily understood. The book debunks common myths by diving into how cooking changes food at the molecular level and also answers frequently asked questions from home cooks. How to repair clotted pastry cream? What is the best combination of cheese and wine for a fondue that does not turn into a “solid mass lying at the bottom of the pot under a fatty liquid”? Why are copper pans better for canning fruit? It’s hard not to share that enthusiasm for food and science as you peruse this entertaining read.

Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This

Hervé This uses Kitchen Mysteries to answer very specific questions that were not addressed in his first book, above. In my favorite chapter, entitled “A successful soufflé? This explores all the possible ways dessert can fail and provides three simple rules for a foolproof soufflé. This one is a purse-sized book: short and sweet, and a great gift for any avid home cook.

Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking

by Hervé This

by Shirley Corriher BakeWise will equip you with everything you need to make beautiful and delicious pastries. Corriher, a biochemist also trained in the French culinary arts, breaks down all the science needed to explain why each of the recipes in her book work. His Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake, for example, uses Dutch cocoa and baking soda to alkalize the chocolate, resulting in an almost dark cake. “My goal in BakeWise“, she writes, “is to give you tools, information that you can use to make not only successful baked goods, but also exceptional baked goods.

BakeWise: the how and why of successful baking with over 200 wonderful recipes

Levy Beranbaum has two degrees in food science and is the genius behind the reverse creaming method.. But The cake bible isn’t strictly a science book, Levy Beranbaum provides practical advice on how to make each of her cakes a success; she includes an “Understand” section in most recipes, where she explains why the recommended method works best. If you want to become a better baker and understand how to make the tastiest and most tender cakes, The cake bible is the book for you.

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