2020 | 352 p. | £ 26
Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk
Buy this book on Bookshop.org
The molecular gastronomy revolution in the 2000s was a huge win for chemistry and its relationship with the public – it made our science relatable, accessible, and relevant like few other things, and it showed that science and art are not mutually exclusive. I think a strong understanding of this is also the key to a good book on food science. Although it has its highlights The equation of taste doesn’t really hit it. Ultimately, it feels like the reluctant love child of a bizarre science textbook and an excellent recipe book.
Nik Sharma is a food journalist from California. He has an award-winning blog A brown table, and is a contributor to the popular Serious Eats website. Like his colleague at Serious Eats, J Kenji López-Alt, Sharma had a scientific background (as a molecular biologist) before turning to the kitchen.
During López-Alt’s book The food laboratory – which I’ve also reviewed – is brimming with in-depth analysis of ingredients and recipes to help you understand your favorite foods at a fundamental level, the science in science The equation of taste mostly feels like a collection of (sometimes random) facts that are not relevant or applicable. The intro section is particularly to blame for this – the biology of our ears could be interesting, but it does help us prepare better food‽ – the rest of the book hardly does much better. For example, the chapter on lightness goes very far to explain acidity and alkalinity, but doesn’t say anything more about the role of lye in the production of ramen, other than that it affects gluten formation. As a home cook, I’m much more interested in understanding the latter than knowing how to calculate pH levels.
There was so much of it in the whole book that I wondered if I was dull and missing obvious ways of applying science. However, even my partner as a biologist struggled to see the relevance of much of the content.
When I was ready to try a recipe, I felt pretty cynical. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Sharma’s Indo-Chinese and Fusion creations are really exciting, and the recipes are well-written and easy to follow. The book even provides metric equivalents to unfathomable U.S. measurements (please stop measuring irregular solids by volume). The Goan pulao with prawns, olives and tomatoes from the Savory section has an impressive umami punch and the spare ribs in malt vinegar from the Brightness section really got me to think about the balance of acidity with fat, sweetness and chilli heat in the dish to let.
While these recipes offer practical and delicious presentations of each flavor component featured, they are not enough to connect you to science, especially if you are new to food science. And if you are a seasoned chef, you won’t really learn much here that you haven’t already seen in traditional culinary art.
Science and art may not be mutually exclusive, but bringing them together is no easy task. If you are a confident cook and a fan of Sharma and its way of eating, you will likely enjoy the recipes and the beautiful photos. However, if you’re looking for an introduction to food science or want to expand your knowledge base, I recommend looking elsewhere.