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Books to Help You Understand the Science of Cooking

There are a lot of food books out there. The vast majority are of course cookbooks, collections of recipes. Some with an educational aspect, others purely for entertainment, and yet again others even take some time to discuss the science behind food.

We love a good book on food and have collected quite a few. We especially enjoy those books that teach something new, shine a new light on a food, or just teach us something about a type or culture of food that we aren’t familiar with yet.

Here you’ll find all books that we’ve reviewed on this website. As well as our recommendations when it comes to further reading learning. We’ve grouped them by book type, but otherwise, they’re in a random order.

Themed by food type

You probably enjoy studying (and eating) some foods more than others. So, naturally, you’ll want some more books on those foods. Personally, I found I have quite some books on candy and ice cream in my cupboards. Those also happen to be some of my favorites since they tend to dive a little deeper than your regular cookbook!

Ice cream

hello my name is ice cream book cover
Hello, My Name is Ice Cream – by Dana Cree

This is a style of book we appreciate a lot. It contains a lot of great, practical recipes, but also an entire section on the science behind ice cream.

It’s the perfect start if you’re new to looking at ice cream in a more scientific manner. It’s also a great book if you’re just looking for recipes, it contains a quite wide range of different styles of ice creams, not just flavor variations.

What makes this book so great is also the fact that Dana Cree, the author, clearly has a passion for and plenty of experience with making delicious ice cream!

Ice Cream – by Goff & Hartel

If you really want to dig deep into ice cream, this is the book I’d recommend. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but does cover just about any scientific aspect you can think of when it comes to ice cream.

The book is written from a North American perspective, so when topics such as legislation are discussed keep that in mind.

Ice cream
the science of ice cream
The Science of Ice Cream – by Chris Clarke

Again, a very science-focused book. Unfortunately, it’s not very accessible to those who don’t have any background knowledge. It skims over certain topics quite quickly, assuming a lot of prior knowledge and familiarity with the industry.

Yes, it’s a cheaper option than ‘Ice Cream’, but by far not as in-depth and well-researched.

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream – by Van Leeuwen

We enjoy the book, because of its recipe, but it’s not at all science-heavy. Great for finding (new) recipes, but not so great for learning more in-depth about ice cream.

Not one we’d recommend for those wanting to dig deeper.

Van Leeuwen artisan ice cream book cover


Modernist Bread – by Nathan Myhrvold et al

Looking for the science behind bread? Look no further. This enormous 5-volume series covers the science behind a lot of bread styles, along the way trying to reinvent some classics.

It’s a work of art with beautiful photos and illustrations. The only two disadvantages in my opinion are the text density and price. I would have preferred the same content, in a smaller book, which, in my humble opinion should have been possible without too much of a problem. Also, it is by far the most expensive set of books in this entire article, and part of that pays for beautiful (but excessive?) imagery, though I might just be more science focused than others.

Bread Illustrated – ATK

ATK (America’s Test Kitchen) produces a lot of books every year and has plenty of staff to test and improve recipes. It has resulted in a beautiful book for both beginners as well as more advanced bakers

It doesn’t deep dive into the science but does contain a lot of interesting background information. Also, it contains a lot of photos to illustrate processes helping visual learners tremendously.

Personally, I didn’t like the selection of recipes that much, likely because they are strongly geared toward a North American audience. As such, recipes are given in volume measures, something I find very inconvenient and not very scientific. (Note, flours and other dry ingredients are converted into weights, but ingredients like butter are not.)

Bread Illustrated book cover
Bouchon Bakery book cover
Bouchon Bakery – Thomas Keller

For those looking to level up their bread-baking skills and looking for tips from the pros this is the book for you. It definitely isn’t suited for someone just starting out. All recipes require at least sourdough starters or a poolish, which makes them inherently more complex.

Again, they don’t cover as much science, but, it does discuss a lot of professional advice, including how to ensure cleanliness. It will likely teach you something new!

Brilliant Bread – James Morton

A great book for a true beginner. It contains a good variety of very basic recipes and more complicated ones. It contains some simple explanations of how things work, but nothing too in-depth.

With the author being British, most of the recipes gear toward British, or European-style breads.

You will notice that the instructions for different recipes do look quite alike. This is pretty common for bread-baking books I found. The author has his or her own preferred way of baking bread and will use a similar method all throughout the book. As a beginner this is perfect, though, if you’re looking for something more advanced, this is not the book for you.

brilliant bread - james morton cover


I discovered I don’t have a lot of candy cookbooks. They’re definitely not as commonly published as say bread baking books, but, one of my favorite food science books I own is part of this collection!

confectionery science and technology
Confectionery Science & Technology – Hartel, von Elbe & Hofberger

Ready for a true deep dive into the science behind candy? Whether it’s chocolate, fudge, brittle, caramels, this book has you covered.

It’s a gold mine for anyone truly wanting to understand how candy works. It covers the role of ingredients, discusses a wide range of processes, and teaches some of the basic science concepts involved such as water activity.

The only disadvantage is its focus on North American confectionery.

It’s not cheap, but a worthwhile investment if this is your field of interest.

The Science of Sugar Confectionery – by William P. Edwards

Another candy book with a very scientific approach. However, it clearly lacks the depth of the book discussed above. A lot of information is left out and you do need a decent background in the field to fully grasp all explanations. Some of which are very short and to the point.

Since its focus is the UK instead of North America, some slightly different products are discussed compared to those in the book by Hartel et. al.

the science of sugar confectionery


Yes, for now there’s only one book in this category (let us know if you have any recommendations), but, it’s a good one and of a type that not a lot of books exist, so we felt it worthwhile to add.

The Ultimate Cookie Handbook cover

This is one of my favorite sciency food books since there aren’t that many of its type around! Tessa Arias discusses the science of cookies by demonstrating a wide range of cookie recipes and discussing how simple differences (such as sugar type) can make an impact!

It’s full of examples of actually baked cookies. And also contains a good selection of great cookie recipes, each demonstrating a concept that’s been discussed in the book (e.g. chewy vs. crispy cookies).

Food Science for Chefs & Cooks

This next category of books doesn’t cover just one type of food. Instead, these are books that cover a wide range of foods. What brings them together is their focus on explaining the science behind the foods they discuss. Yes, they may contain recipes, but those often serve to explain the concepts that are discussed in the books.

On Food and Cooking – by Harold McGee

New to studying the science behind your food? This is the book to get! It’s an encyclopedic piece of work, discussing the basic concepts of a wide range a foods. From fish to bread, from colors to texturing agents. Just about any basic concept is explained in a very accessible manner.

It’s not a bedside table book, but it’s one you’d return to time and time again, to look up a new piece of information when doing your research.

on food and cooking cover
front cover salt fat acid heat
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – by Samin Nosrat

Another great book that’s accessible for novices but also for those who already know a lot about cooking. Samin Nosrat has a ton of practical cooking expertise that she shares in the book in easy to understand principles.

Of course, she focuses on salt, fat, acid and heat and uses these basic concepts to teach you all about cooking. The book also contains plenty of recipes, to illustrate all those concepts. A surefire recommendation for anyone interested to learn more about food and cooking.

The Flavor Equation – by Nik Sharma

Nik Sharma is a scientist turned food expert and he continues to bring in his scientific background, especially in this book. The book is split into a few key concepts such as brightness, bitterness, sweetness, and fieriness. Each section starts with an introduction and explanation to the topic. Then, you can start applying what you just learned by making the recipes that follow. Those recipes are very creative and definitely not your standard meals!

The Flavor Equation
Cook's illustrated both books
Cook’s Science & The Science of Good Cooking – by Cook’s Illustrated

Both these books chose about 50 food ingredients or concepts and took a deep dive into their science. It contains a lot of little experiments and has been well-researched.

The major disadvantage: since they chose a selection of topics, it’s not always as easy to remember what they discussed in the book. We might regularly try to look something up, only to find they don’t discuss that particular topic.

Cook, Taste, Learn – by Guy Crosby

Yes, this book still discusses science, but it also focuses on the history of food. It’s a combination we enjoy and sheds a light on how certain things came to be.

It’s not a huge book, easy to read, also for those without a science background.

Cook Taste Learn book cover
Molecular Gastronomy – Hervé This

This is one of the classics. Hervé This is one of the ‘founders’ of molecular gastronomy and encourages folks to use science when cooking.

In this book, he discusses the science behind a wide range of foods. The chapters are short and sweet, and easy to understand. Also, they’ve been researched well, with Herve This being a scientist himself. As such, it’s a very accessible book to start out with.

150 Food Science Questions Answered – by Bryan Quoc Le

A fun, short book discussing, yes, you’re right, 150 different food science related questions. Written by another food scientist, this might not be as complete as an encyclopedia, but great for those always asking questions about their food!

150 food science questions answered
Ratio – by Michael Ruhman

One of our readers recommended this book to us some time ago. It’s a simple, smart book. It teaches you the basic ratios of ingredients you need to make a range of basic products. From biscuits to bread, from cake to pate a choux.

It’s definitely helpful for bakers, seeing as how most of the ratios are for baked goods (it’s where they benefit bakers most), and provides a good way to help any chef or baker become more confident. If you know and understand the ratio of ingredients, it becomes far more interesting to start varying and experimenting. It’s a lot easier than experimenting with recipes for sure.

Food Lab – by Kenji Lopez-Alt

Kenji Lopez-Alt is known for his relentless experimentation in the kitchen. He’s tried out all sorts of things and then manages to optimize and improve existing recipes, often using a twist.

In the Food Lab he gathers a ton of experiments and recipes. In all honesty, it’s not one of our most commonly used books, it’s quite heavily meat-focused (and no baking at all), which may be a reason. But, it’s definitely a worthwhile addition and source of inspiration.

Food Lab front cover

Food Science Experts

This next category of books no longer contains any recipes. Instead, these books are dedicated entirely on the discussion of various concepts in food. Not all of them are just about food science, but all of them shine a new light on a certain field.

food microbiology
Food Microbiology – by Martin R. Adams, et al

Want to learn all about the microorganisms in your food? Then this is a good book to get you going. It’s not for beginners, nor if you just want to learn the basics. Instead, it’s for those who really want to grow their expertise within the field and is often used for food microbiology classes at universities.

Gastrophysics – by Charles Spence

The exact same brownie may taste different and give a wholly different eating experience when eaten in a different environment. Whether it’s the type of fork you’re using (or if you’re even using one at all), the music that’s played, the people you’re with, the story that’s told, they all impact your eating experience.

Charles Spence dives deep into these phenomena, showcasing a lot of examples of high end restaurant eating.

Gastrophysics - book cover ebook-1
First Bite book cover
Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat & First Bite – by Bee Wilson

We greatly enjoy the books from Bee Wilson. They’re very well written and researched and a pleasure to read.

Swindled discusses all the different ways in which foods have been counterfeited over the years. And no, not just recently, that’s been going on for centuries. Food from the time your great-grandparents were small definitely wasn’t necessarily better (think heavy metals in food to bring out more color).

Consider the fork discusses the history of how we eat, whether that’s the tools we use (forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks) or when and where.

Lastly, First Bite looks into how we learn to eat as children. We’d highly recommend all three!

The Dorito Effect – Mark Schatzker

This is one of those books that can really get you thinking differently and that challenges some of your assumptions. The book is all about the impact of flavor on how we eat, especially on how added flavors impact what we eat.

The part that stays with me most clearly? That animals, I believe they were goats, would ‘feel’ they’d be nutrient deficient and would then eat a certain plant to make up for that deficiency. A natural way to balance their diets. Humans have some of this innate ability as well, especially infants, but we seem to overthink things.

The Dorito Effect

Cookbooks with a twist

You can learn a lot about how food works by learning about foods from different cuisines and learning about different preparation methods. It’s why there are several ‘regular’ cookbooks on this list as well. It is by no means complete, but a list of personal preferences for sure!

Chai Chaat Chutney
The Cardamom Trail & Chai, Chaat, Chutney – by Chetna Makan

These two books are definitely mostly cookbooks. But, they’re great cookbooks. We’ve made a ton of recipes. They’re well written and most of them do contain a little background story on where they came from. It’s a great way to learn something more about the different types of street food from India. Or, to become creative in mixing British bakes with Indian-inspired flavors.

Sweet – by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh

If we’d tally up all the scores, this would be the book of which we’ve made the most recipes, by far. The book is very recipe-focused, but the recipes are so original. Yes, the book contains some classics, but most of them are spins on existing recipes, using moderately advanced techniques.

Looking for a dessert or sweet bake? Then this is the book to get!

book cover sweet yotam ottolenghi
Plenty book cover
Plenty – by Yotam Ottolenghi

We haven’t used this one as much as Sweet, but it’s still an original book, helping you to look at vegetables in a different way than you might have before.

The recipes aren’t super easy, but they work well and are all very original yet again.

The Turkish Cookbook – by Musa Dagdeviren

This is one of those books that’s taught us a lot about a cuisine we weren’t yet that familiar with. It contains a ton of recipes, with explanations on where they come from and when they’d be made.

front cover Turkish Cookbooks
Gran Cocina Latina
Gran Cocina Latina – by Maricel E. Presilla

This book falls into the same category for us as the book above. It opened up the world of Latin American cooking. It’s like an encyclopedia on cooking from that area. And, what we particularly enjoy, it doesn’t just contain recipes, it contains a lot of additional context. For instance, how there might be slight nuances between different version, based on where you’re from.

Learning more about a specific type of cuisine will almost always teach you new techniques and concepts, that enrich your understanding of food in general. It also makes you a better scientist, since it’s so crucial to also look outside of just what it is that you’re familiar with!

Season – by Nik Sharma

Yet another book by Nik Sharma. Even though this book also includes some background and science, it’s definitely more of a cookbook than let’s say Flavor Equation. What’s so great about this book is that it freely combines concepts and flavors from different cuisines into new dishes.

It helps you look at food in a fun, different way!


Looking for non-book related tips? Maybe browse our gift guide with a few great tools for experimenters.

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