Cooked Book Summary - Cooked Book explained in key points
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Cooked summary

Michael Pollan

A Natural History of Transformation

4.4 (42 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

Cooked by Michael Pollan explores the history and science of cooking, as well as its effect on society and culture. From fire to fermentation, Pollan argues that cooking has played a vital role in human evolution and continues to shape our relationship with food.

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    Cooking food makes raw ingredients more digestible and more nutritious for humans.

    Some people think that raw food diets represent a return to nature – a healthier way to live. But such logic is off base. If we didn’t cook food, we’d spend a ton of time just chewing it.

    For humans to live well consuming just raw food, we would need a much larger gut and more powerful jaws. Our apelike ancestors did have these traits, but they came with a trade-off.

    Primatologist Richard Wrangham hypothesized that before early humans began to cook, they spent over half their day chewing their food.

    We can witness this today with chimpanzees that like to eat meat but don’t cook. When a chimpanzee eats raw meat, it has to chew for a long time, technically leaving it little time to hunt – not nearly enough time to properly support a carnivorous diet.

    Regarding expended calories, eating hard-to-digest food is costly. For many species, the calories expended in digestion are nearly equal to the calories needed to move around.

    Here’s where cooking food makes a difference. Cooking alters the composition of food both physically and chemically, making it more nutritious and easier to digest.

    When we cook a protein-rich food like meat, the heat works to unravel the structure of the meat’s proteins, unlocking the energy within. These now weaker protein structures are easily digested by the enzymes in the human stomach.

    When you boil an egg, for example, 90 percent of the cooked egg is digestible. A raw egg, in contrast, is only 65 percent digestible by the human gut. The same rule applies to many other foodstuffs: the more food is cooked, the easier it is for your gut to absorb the nutrients stored in the food.

    Another benefit of cooking is that it makes food safer to eat. Some plants, like the root cassava, a staple of South American cuisine, is toxic when raw. Once cooked, it is safe to eat, nutritious and easily digested.

    Cooking also works to preserve food. Thus raw meat that would spoil quickly remains edible for a longer period once it’s cooked.

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    What is Cooked about?

    Cooked (2013) details the history of humanity’s relationship with cooking, baking and fermentation. These blinks explain how cooking became an essential aspect of being human while exploring the varied techniques people have tried and perfected to turn nature’s bounty into a delicious, nutritious meal.

    Cooked Review

    Cooked (2013) by Michael Pollan is a captivating exploration of the history, science, and art of cooking, and why it is essential for our well-being. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • It delves into the philosophy and cultural significance of cooking, revealing how it connects us to our humanity and the natural world.
    • Through personal stories and immersive research, the book showcases the transformative power of cooking in bringing joy, health, and community.
    • Pollan's meticulous examination of traditional cooking methods and recipes inspires readers to reclaim their kitchens and create nourishing, delicious meals.

    Best quote from Cooked

    Breast milk contains a lot of glutamate, so it has a taste of umami. This may be one reason why infants love the taste so much!

    —Michael Pollan
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    Who should read Cooked?

    • People interested in culinary history
    • Foodies eager to understand why we cook they way we do
    • Fans of brewing, pickling or other fermented foods

    About the Author

    Michael Pollan is a food journalist, bestselling author and a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. His other books include The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

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    Cooked FAQs 

    What is the main message of Cooked?

    The main message of Cooked is that cooking is a transformative tool that connects us to nature and one another.

    How long does it take to read Cooked?

    The reading time for Cooked varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Cooked a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Cooked is worth reading as it explores the joys and benefits of cooking, as well as its impact on our health, culture, and relationships.

    Who is the author of Cooked?

    The author of Cooked is Michael Pollan.

    What to read after Cooked?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Cooked, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • What the Fork Are You Eating? by Stefanie Sacks
    • 100 Million Years Of Food by Stephen Le
    • Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
    • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
    • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
    • This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
    • The Fine Art Of Small Talk by Debra Fine
    • What to Eat When by Michael Roizen
    • Why We Remember by Charan Ranganath
    • Practical Optimism by Sue Varma