Thursday, December 13, 2012

Culinary Reactions Review

Culinary Reactions by Simon Quellen Field

(from the back of the book)
When you’re cooking, you’re a chemist! Every time you follow or modify a recipe, you are experimenting with acids and bases, emulsions and suspensions, gels and foams.  In your kitchen you denature proteins, crystallize compounds, react enzymes with substrates, and nurture desired microbial life while suppressing harmful bacteria and fungi.  But unlike in a laboratory, you can eat your experiment to verify your hypotheses.

In Culinary Reactions, author Simon Quellen Field turns measuring cups, stovetop burners, and mixing bowls into graduated cylinders, Bunsen burners, and beakers.  How does altering the ratio of flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and water affect how high bread rises?  Why is whipped cream made with nitrous oxide instead of the more common carbon dioxide?  And why does Hollandaise sauce call for “clarified” butter?  This easy-to-follow primer even includes recipes to demonstrate the concepts being discussed.

This is a very sciency book.  It uses words like bonds, denature, react, solute, and other science words you don’t come across in everyday life.  There are even chemical diagrams in here.  So if you are someone who hated high school chemistry you will probably hate this book too.  But if you have no fear of science and like to cook, dive right in.  Probably everyone will run into some concepts they are unfamiliar with but don’t worry.  Chemistry lessons are provided in little asides put in to explain some of the concepts that are important to understanding the topic.  I like science so I’m probably willing to wade through some stuff other people would find annoying but still I can’t say that I understood everything completely all the time.  Especially when they broke out the diagrams of chemical bonds and started talking about when this bond moves to look like this… Yeah, okay.  But the big concepts I got.  And knowing why things happen when you cook and why you are doing certain things is not only interesting to know but can help you in your cooking efforts.  So you know if your cake comes out more like bread there is something you can do about it.  And it’s good to know that there is a reason to buy all those different kinds of flour and you aren’t just throwing your money away for nothing.  

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