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Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking [Paperback]

Simon Quellen Field
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov 2011
Exploring the scientific principles behind everyday recipes, this informative blend of lab book and cookbook reveals that cooks are actually chemists. Following or modifying recipes is shown to be an experiment with acids and bases, emulsions and suspensions, gels and foams. This easy-to-follow primer includes recipes that demonstrate the scientific concepts, such as Whipped Creamsicle Topping (a foam), Cherry Dream Cheese (a protein gel), and Lemonade with Chameleon Eggs (an acid indicator). Also included in this fun, fact-filled companion are answers to various culinary curiosities, such as "How does altering the ratio of flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and water affect how high bread rises? "and" Why is whipped cream made with nitrous oxide rather than the more common carbon dioxide?"

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Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking + Kitchen as a Laboratory (Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) + Molecular Gastronomy Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History): Exploring the Science of ... the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569767068
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569767061
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 110,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"With information advanced enough to interest the well-seasoned, hard-boiled home cook, the information in this book is written in such a friendly and approachable manner that even beginner kitchen-chemists will be delighted to learn from it."--"San Francisco Book Review"

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is a reasonably interesting read, with a number of explanations of the everyday occurrences that happen in the kitchen. You get explanations for various kitchen phenomena, such as why meat dries out and needs to rest, why red wine can turn blue when washing up, or an explanation of what makes a saturated fat.

The science isn't overwhelming, although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone without a reasonable recollection of school chemistry. The book does tend to confuse itself with a textbook at times. There are various, rather inconsequential, boxes that explain dry chemical concepts which are not particularly relevant to the text. The chapters are organised along chemical rather than culinary lines, which can make it feel a bit fragmented, and certainly more difficult to use as a reference for a particular cooking technique.

There is a wealth of practical information available within the pages, although the translations from theory to kitchen feel a bit half-hearted and grow scarcer as the book continues until its rather abrupt conclusion.

Overall there is enough interesting information within to make the book worth buying, but it could be a bit sharper, a bit thinner and a bit more consistent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars quality book 28 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book as a Christmas present and according to the recipient it was well enjoyed by all accounts.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very welcome gift 31 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
it was a gift and the person receiving it, sat and read it through in one go! He is particularly interested in the section on cheese-making and is planning to follow the instructions - I look forward to sampling this!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
137 of 142 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what it is. 26 Nov 2011
By Tumblemark - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book comes off as a write up of Google searches. It contains lots of interesting factiods, to be sure, and on the whole is worth the price, but it's neither a chemistry course nor a cooking course nor -- what you'd hope for -- a braiding of the two.

It's not a biochem course, not even a lightweight one, as it doesn't build from first principals -- it just throws out whatever chemistry facts happen to pop up, some times at a basic level and sometimes at a very deep level -- too deep, I'd think, for most cooks. Neither is it a cooking/baking course (it mixes both), as again it doesn't build up an understanding from basic principals. So you get a chemistry fact, sometimes paired with a curious fact about cooking or baking. Then off to the next fact. Fortunately, it has a table of contents and a good index, so at least you can find the tidbits you might be looking for. Many times they are interesting, but not always.

My degrees are in chemistry and I consider myself reasonable well read when it comes to gastronomy, so I enjoyed the book and read it completely. But I think if I were someone expecting to be lead through an understanding of basic food chemistry and simultaneously basic cooking/baking I would have been confused and disappointed. You'd come away with some facts, but I don't think you'd come away with an understanding of the chemistry of cooking or baking, and I don't think you'd become a better cook (or chemist).
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's science you eat! Love this book. 7 Nov 2011
By Shala Kerrigan - Published on
I like science, and love cooking. So Culinary Reactions : The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field is very exciting to me. The idea is to explain in clear and easy language how the chemicals in our foods react and behave to create what we eat.

From the liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream in the introduction, to the very end where he explains why salt and ice freeze ice cream and all the information in between, he's managed it very well.

The chapters each cover a specific topic, and there is some overlap in the examples used. Like making cheese involves making a protein gel using protein chemistry and can be flavored using molds which are covered in the biology chapter.

The language is clear and scientific. He explains the way molecules interact to create foams such as bread and meringues, how beer and vinegar are made, how specific cultured bacteria can create inhospitable environments for more dangerous bacteria. The affects of acids and bases on recipes, including a very clear explanation of the difference between the two.

Yes, it's science, but it's easy to read and understand.

There are few cooking projects that show the chemical processes at work. A whipped topping that's stabilized with the addition of xanthan gum, a homemade cheese cheese with instructions for two great, inexpensive and easy to build cheese presses, a turkey that's is surface sterilized to be cooked for a very long time at below boiling point temperatures to keep it super juicy, extracting DNA from pumpkins and fruit, and lemonade with color changing grape juice "chameleon eggs".

If you have a practical knowledge of cooking, you will probably get inspired to try other things like creating invert sugar solutions to use instead of simple syrup, or trying acids like lemon juice in your meringues instead of cream of tartar.

The understanding of the scientific principles behind why ingredients behave the way they do can help make anyone a better cook I believe. I found the information exciting and inspiring, and know I'll use it to develop more recipes for my family.

It's educational and interesting. The projects provide great science experiments to do with your children or just on your own. It's one that my husband is interested in reading as well. He's already said he will build me a cheese press following the instructions in the book so I can try making harder cheeses. I really enjoyed it, and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in science and cooking.

[I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book to review on my craft blog- Don't Eat the Paste]
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is better out there 13 Jun 2012
By J. Canfield - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is not poorly written and does contain knowledge worth learning. The problem I had with the book is I had already purchased and read "the science and Lore of the kitchen" written by Harold McGee. I had found that Harold McGee's book was more detailed and covered a vast amount of knowledge. When I compared both books I felt like Culinary Reactions was kind of like attending a second grade class but you already graduate from high school, I found myself asking, why am I reading this? I can recommend this book to someone who is interested in obtaining the basics of food science. But if you are looking for more than I recommend "the science and Lore of the kitchen" written by Harold McGee.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The science of everyday cooking 1 Nov 2011
By Ellen P. Lafleche-christian - Published on
Culinary Reactions explores the scientific principles behind everyday recipes. Don't be intimidated by the word science mixed in with this description, the way he explains the process is fun and easy to understand. The author starts out with the basics of chemistry in the kitchen including the importance of measuring and weighing ingredients. He also talks about the importance of using quality ingredients and how to estimate calories.

Each chapter is broken down by the type of reaction involved: Foams, Emulsions, Oils and Fats, Solutions, Crystallization, Protein Chemistry, Biology, Scaling Recipes Ups and Down, Heating, Acids and Bases, Oxidation and Reduction; and Boiling, Freezing and Pressure.

Culinary Reactions isn't really a cookbook although you fill find recipes scattered throughout the book. The breakdown of the chemical reactions may not necessarily tell you what to expect in each chapter unless you're familiar with cooking chemistry. As an example, Foams includes things like marshmallows, whipped cream and ice cream. The book explains why each reaction occurs so I learned that proteins in these foams are changed from their natural state (denatured) and attract and repel different things which eventually causes them to stick to different things and form a film that holds their shape. Each chapter includes diagrams of various molecular structures so you can see the actual chemical reaction that takes place. There are also several shaded boxes that include chemistry lessons you can read for more information on specific processes discussed in the chapter. This is perfect for those of us that either never took chemistry or haven't thought about it for years... just in case you don't remember what a covalent bond actually is.

There are lots of great recipes included throughout that show the various chemistry process. A few examples of recipes included are Whipped Creamsicle Topping, Cherry Dream Cheese, and Thanksgiving Turkey. The recipes are easy to follow and have a complete list of ingredients and supplies needed. There are also black and white photographs to show you each step.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in finding out WHY something works in the kitchen the way it does. It's written in a way that a non scientific person can follow along with out a problem but is in depth enough that someone with a science background won't be bored or feel talked down to. There are several recipes that use alcohol so all the experiments won't work with children but much of the book would work well in a high school science home school curriculum. Definitely an interesting read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Awesome and Strange at the Same Time 16 Mar 2012
By Burgundy Damsel - Published on
Some facets of this book were amazing: great information, fun experiments, and an engaging tone. The author's fun, enthusiastic tone is often reminiscent of the Mythbusters. The explanations of why things work (like beating cream leading to both whipped cream and butter, two drastically different results made from the same ingredients by the same method) were fascinating. This would be great to use with kids.

After reading this book I feel much more prepared to design my own recipes, gauge the results of a printed recipe based on its ingredients and their ratios, and adjust recipes to achieve desired results.

There were, however, some strange aspects to this book as well. Some portions completely lost the Mythbusters-style energy and got entangled in chemical structures that weren't really meaningful to me. Granted, I'm not good at chemistry, but the shift was odd and disappointing. Though the information on why things happen was accurate, this is NOT somewhere to look for nutritional wisdom - the author clearly abides by FDA company line, allowing that MSG and corn syrup are fine and raw milk is evil regardless of clear evidence to the contrary. Finally, the ending of the book is startlingly abrupt. The final chapter finishes like any other and then there just isn't anything else. No conclusion, no wrap up, no acknowledgement that you're on the last page. Very odd.

All things considered, this is worth picking up and checking out.
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