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Book Review: Culinary Reactions by Simon Quellen Field

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I completely admit that I hated science in school. It just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t want my kids to feel the same way, so I introduced them to science with experiments at a young age. One of the first was a volcano that “erupted” with vinegar and baking soda. If you remember enjoying those, you will love this book.

Culinary Reactions explores the scientific principles behind everyday recipes. Don’t be intimidated by the word science; the way Simon Quellen Field explains what’s happening 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.

These are the chapter headings: 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 will 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.  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 or terms 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: 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.

About Ellen Christian

Ellen is a busy mom of two teenagers who left the corporate world in 2008 to focus on a more eco-friendly life. She lives in rural Vermont where she juggles family, two blogs and a career in social media. You can find her at http://www.confessionsofanover-workedmom.com/ and http://the-socialites-closet.blogspot.com/.