10 Great Food Books

We love the fact that you come to Mysterious Beans and read everything we write (or at least that you have found this one article) but that doesn’t mean we are not aware that there are other sources of food and travel writing in the world and some of them are really bloody excellent. The only problem is that there are also a massive number that are distinctly average.

There are about 214,000 food books about on Amazon alone. So how do you sort the gems from the mediocrity? This list is a good place to start.

Everybody has favourites and a decent recommendation is always a good place to start, so here is my little handpicked list of a few books that I think will make a great addition to anybody’s culinary library. Note that these are books about food, but not necessarily cookery books.

Despite the fact that I love a lot of very old recipe books I realise that they are tricky to get your hands on, so I have only included books that are currently in publication and are easily available in the list.

They are in absolutely no order at all, and cover a bit of everything from recipes to trade wars and evolution.

So, The List…

Disclosure: Clicking on any book image will take you to Amazon, these are affiliate links and we will earn a tiny amount of commission if you buy a book. (other booksellers are available).

Catching Fire: How cooking Made Us Human

by Richard Wrangham

Not the lightest read, and liable to piss off anybody who doesn’t believe in evolution (I’m looking at you Ben Carson), but a bloody marvellous book!

Primatologist Richard Wrangham presents the theory that much of our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. Some of his logic and the evidence he presents is pretty difficult to argue with or easily dismiss.

Food for Free

by Richard Mabey

If there were an industry standard text for foragers, then this would be it. Stick a copy in your pocket and go for a wander in the great outdoors.

Richard Mabey explains concisely but clearly how to find loads of things you didn’t know you were looking and/or that you didn’t know you could eat.

The Big Red Book of Tomatoes

By Lindsey Bareham

As the title suggests, it is a big (well, medium sized) book about nothing other than tomatoes. The tomato is a massively versatile thing and Lindsey shares over 400 brilliant recipes using the little red fruit.

Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

By Mark Kurlansky

You might not believe it but you actually can make a whole book about a fish interesting, really, really interesting!

The history of cod covers 1000 years and four continents. Wars, revolutions, and most importantly the human capacity for and tendency towards greed.

Garlic and Sapphires

by Ruth Reichl

What do you do when you are the food critic of the New York Times, every kitchen in the city has your picture on the wall but you want to write real reviews without getting preferential treatment?

For Ruth Reichl the answer is to use a range of different personas and elaborate disguises.

Fantastically written and fast moving, this book will make you laugh and make you hungry in equal measures

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

by Michael Pollan

The entire book is easily summed up in one simple sentence: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

All that Michael Pollen is really doing in this book is setting out everything we should already know about eating, but seem not to. It’s a timely reminder of why we should be eating ‘food’ as opposed to highly processed stuff that would be unrecognisable to anyone from a few generations ago.

The One-Straw Revolution

By Masanobu Fukuoka

I’m not much of a gardener or farmer, I managed to grow some chillis and garlic one year but that is about it.

Strange then that I have included a book about farming on this list, but this isn’t just any old book about farming. Masanobu Fukuoka has a clear and simple view which forms the bases of this book, it is that ‘people mess up nature’. All of our modern farming practises including those that are seen as good practises are only needed because we have messed up the way that nature thrives on its own.

Vefa’s Kitchen

by Vefa Alexiadou

There isn’t much that I need to write about this book. Put simply, if you could only own one book about Greek cookery then this should be it.

It’s huge, extensive, authentic, and generally just a lovely book to be around.

The Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

This book is not the place to search for a recipe, it’s much more of an encyclopedia. Everything you need to know about individual ingredients, cooking techniques and how they are used by different cultures. Think Larousse but run through with passion and humour.

I challenge anyone with a healthy interest in the history of food or ingredients to open any random page in this book and not lose hours.

White Heat

by Marco Pierre White

Long before selling his soul to a stock cube brand and taking part in many dubious TV productions, there was Marco the brilliant chef, the youngest chef ever to hold three Michelin stars, and that Marco wrote a book…

Published in 1990 Marco Pierre White’s first cookbook ‘White Heat’ was massively influential and quite simply brilliant. Many prominent chefs who followed have described it as possibly the most important cookbook of modern times, and I think it is hard to disagree.

It’s a great read, partially due to the brutal honesty that runs through White Heat, even from the opening sentence “You’re buying ‘White Heat’ because you want to cook well? Because you want to cook Michelin stars? Forget it. Save your money. Go and buy a saucepan.”

That’s probably enough to be going on with, but there might be a few “10 more…” lists on the way. If you have any recommendations of your own then let us know in the comments below!

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