Author Simon Field in his book „Culinary Reactions-The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking“ explores the chemistry behind the recipes you follow every day. How does altering the ratio of flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and water affect how high bread rises? Why does Hollandaise sauce fall for “clarified” butter?  Why is whipped cream made with nitrous oxide rather than the more common carbon dioxide? This easy-to-follow primer even includes recipes to demonstrate the concepts being discussed, including Whipped Creamsicle Topping (a foam), Cherry Dream Cheese (a protein gel), and Lemonade with Chameleon Eggs (an acid indicator) and much more. It even shows how to extract DNA from a Halloween pumpkin.


Our guest this week is Simon Quellen Field. Simon is a chemist and former Google software engineer and is the author of over a dozen books, including Gonzo Gizmos, Return of Gonzo Gizmos, Culinary Reactions, Why is Milk White, Elements Vault, Why There’s Antifreeze In Your Toothpaste, Electronics for Artists and, most recently, Boom!: The Chemistry and History of Explosives.

Besides that, he’s the author of the science toy website and several novels.


Full of charts, step-by-step photos, structural formulas, and amazing recipes (the cherry cream cheese has me drooling), you will become a better cook without even trying.
A gateway into the science of food.
A wonderful new book that will be dear to the heart of many a geek, chemist, or true foodie.
Cooking by the Book
This clear primer to the chemistry of cooking goes well beyond the basics to teach cooks how to improve their results scientifically.
Science News


CHAPTER I: Measuring and weighing

From this first chapter we can takeaway that precise measurment isn’t always necessary. There is also a talk about a way to estimate calories in dish and a brief explanation about insulin, how it works and reasons why we should consider consuming low carb.


Chapter about foams covers everything from protein foams, gelatin to sugar foams. There is explanations on hydrophilic and hydrophobic amino acids, chemical reactions behind fizzy drinks and ionic bonds. Also there is a recipe for whipped creamsicle topping using xantham gum, food colouring and dessert whipper.

CHAPTER III: Emulsions

Here we can find everything from density, emulsifying agents, hydrogen bonds, polar molecules to stabilisers and a recipe for Hollandaise.

CHAPTER IV: Colloids, gels and suspensions

In this chapter we’re getting introduced with colloids, gels and suspensions. Colloids are a mixture where one substance is evenly dispersed in another. Gels behave like a solid even though they’re a liquid, whilesuspension is a liquid thickening technique, done with Xanthan gum to allow objects, such as fruit, micro herbs and caviars to be suspendedinside. Futured recipe in ethis chapter is “cherry dream cheese”.

CHAPTER V: Oils and fats

Chapter 5 starts with the physical properties of fats and oils and then continues to explain how energy is obtained from food at the chemical level and why fats contain more energy from fats than from carbohydrates. It also covers main types of fats, including omega-6s, omega-3s and trans fats, together with their health implications.

CHAPTER VI: Solutions

The chapter deals with saturation points, the effect of temperature in solutions and practice includes tips on how to make clear ice.

CHAPTER VII: Crystallisation

Here we have introduction to sugar crystals and controling their size.

CHAPTER VIII: Protein chemistry

This chapter deals with amino acids, peptide bonds, tertiary structures, denaturation, enzymes and shortening. As a recipe we can find Thanksgiving Turkeywhich involves hydrogen peroxide.


This section is dedicated to the microorganisms that produce or modify our food. It also explains different types of preservation methods such as salting and drying.

CHAPTER X: Scaling recipes up and down

This chapter is more technical and it’s useful for the recipes. It contains out of Surface-to-Volume Ratios, Heat Flow Rates, Solving the Surface-to-Volume Problem, Drying, Timing, Gravity and Equipment.


Heating is involved in browning reactions, protein denaturation, volume reduction and drying. It can also produce carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines, acrylamides, colour and nutrient changes in a positive or negative way.

CHAPTER XII: Acids and bases

In this chapter we come along with a basic explanation of what are acids and bases. Other topics include the effect of acid and heat on sugars, proteins, cooking with acids and bases and  their effect on colour and taste. The recipe in this chapter is lemonade with chameleon eggs (caviar-like morsels made from sodium alginate) made to change colour by changing the pH of the fluid.

CHAPTER XIII: Oxidation and reduction

For this chapter we can say it’s like chemistry 101. It involves chemistry lessons on oxygen bonds, orbitals and electrons and a brief discussion on antioxidants.

CHAPTER XIIII: Boiling, freezing and pressure

This final chapter deals with the effect of pressure on boiling/freezing points and baked products. It also talks about pressure cookers, canning and making ice cream.


From the text listed above we can see that chapters cover specific topics and one thing thats somewhat „pocking the eye“ is organization of chapters which we can call disorganized. For example, Field would ask a question such as why do we sift flour and go off on a tangent about why you should weight eggs, and from that come back to say that sifting flour isn’t all that important. Additionally, the topics inside a single chapter often aren’t all that related. Throughout the book we can see author going through every detail he can think of relating individual ingrediants and the most common ways to prepare them witch is pretty interesting. Reading the book we come along to the way molecules interact to create foams, how beer and vinegar are made and how specific cultured bacteria can create inhospitable environments for more dangerous ones. The language used in this book is quite clear, understanding and scientific. Culinary Reactions is one of those books that need to be read from cover to cover to experience it’s full effect. In our opinion it can help anyone with a practical cooking knowledge to get inspired in trying new things such as using acid from lemon juice in meringues instead of cream of tartar. Also, we enjoyed all the informations given in this book and we found them exciting and inspiring. We would like to recommend it to everyone interested in cooking and science.

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