Guy Crosby
Columbia University Press
2020 | 224pp | £20.95
ISBN 9780231192927

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People have often said to me that chemistry is like cooking, but I have definitely met some excellent chemists who are really bad cooks. Maybe the problem arises because the careful consideration we put into following a procedure in the lab goes out the window in the kitchen, and we blindly follow the recipe without a second thought for the science that is going on.

I set out to read Cook, Taste, Learn hopeful that it would provide some scientific context for the culinary arts, which could help chemists apply their skills in the kitchen, or at least provide me with some fun facts to drop into conversation when I am cooking with friends.

The book takes you on a journey through time, from the first instances of cooking by early humans and how this affected their evolution, all the way to modern culinary science and nutrition. Culinary and scientific developments are discussed in their historical context. Dotted throughout the journey are scientific interludes, for example why pH is the key to cooking tender meat or how the starch content of a potato variety is important when you want to make the best mash.

I enjoyed the combination of history and science in this book and, as I hoped, reading it provided me with a treasure trove of interesting facts. Despite this, I definitely didn’t find myself yearning to pick it up and read it whenever I had a spare moment. I wouldn’t recommend this book if you are looking for a gripping read or a book to spark someone’s interest in science.

However, for those who already have a particular interest in food science, culinary cuisine or the history of science, you will probably enjoy Cook, Taste, Learn. And if you are chemist who is whizz in the lab but not so great in the kitchen, this might just be the perfect thing for you! There are even recipes to help you put your new knowledge into practice.