I received this book as a review copy from the publisher. "The Science of the Oven" explores the chemistry and physics of cooking (and eating).
The author's main focus was on how the scientific understanding of cooking and eating can lead to new possibilities in food experimentation. He discussed new scientific findings, explained how this information could be used to make cooking more effective or exact or varied in taste, and then sometimes offered experiments a reader could do in the kitchen to demonstrate the point or create a new taste for his/her eating pleasure.
The introduction was very chatty and funny with asides in the middle of sentences. The asides decreased in the main part of the book, but the author's enthusiasm for the subject still shone through.
The book is easiest to follow if you have at least a basic understanding of chemistry. However, he did explain scientific terms as he went along and assumed he was talking to a non-scientist. He generally kept the explanation simple or gave a summary statement in nontechnical language after giving the technical explanation. There was a short glossary of terms at the back to help with this.
Chapters 1-4 reported in detail on a series of scientific studies and so were a bit heavy on the technical language. Chapters 4-7 still focused on the science but were more conversational in language and easier for me to follow.
Chapter One explored how our various senses affect how we perceive taste. Chapter Two discussed some studies on how various foods affect our health. Chapter Three discussed how food growing conditions and different food varieties affect our taste.
Chapter Four and Five got into specific examples like how tannins in wine change over time and how that affects their taste, why some corks spoil the wine's taste, why eggs cook the way they do and some experiments one can do with eggs, and the science involved in kneading dough, making of noodles, and jelling liquids. Also, how to effectively tenderize squid, keep the "fresh" bright green color in vegetables when cooking, why re-heating can change the taste of meat, how to effectively flavor meat with liquids before cooking, the conditions where a lute seal does work, why lobster shells turn red when cooked, how food thickeners affect taste (like in yogurt), and experiments in making new sauces.
Chapter Six explored (among other things): how cooking in earthware changes food taste; "new" types of milk coagulants for cheese; the chemistry of making cheese, fondue, and spreadable cheeses; the chemistry of creating pickles; how bread gets stale and how this is prevented commercially; the optimal time to beat egg whites for meringues; the color of emulsions; how champagne bubbles develop; the color and taste of port wine; and preserving the smell of fruit jams.
Chapter Seven discussed cooking with hard water, how food color and smell changes when the pH changes, and future possibilities in cooking.
I enjoyed the book, but I didn't always agree with his opinions. (For example, he's down on people who prefer 'natural' sources in their foods whereas I can see how food chemistry has overall improved people's lives but I still think natural is better if you can get it.)
Overall, this was a slower read than normal, but I had many fun "so that's why!" moments. I think this book would be most interesting and useful to people who like to experiment with creating new dishes, industry professionals, and those who are both scientists and cooks.
Reviewed by Debbie from Different Time, Different Place Book Reviews (differenttimedifferentplace. blogspot. com)