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Science and Civilization in China--Volume VI:5

by: H.T. Huang

Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press 2000, $150.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 521-65270-7

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(3) page(s): 24

Long awaited, this monumental seven hundred forty-one page tome in the Joseph Needham monumental series, was worth waiting for. It it a 'must have it' on the bookshelf of everyone who seriously studies Chinese food. The standard of scholarship is excellent, the information invaluable for those who can not read Chinese, even for those who can. It provides both scientific background and historical information about fermentation and food processing technologies. In it, you learn about the origin and development of what can color foods red in Fuzhou, what provides special flavor to Buddhist foods throughout China, how wines were distilled, tea processed, soy milk made, foods salted and preserved, what makes Chinese creamed cauliflower, and more.

The book begins with a survey of foods in ancient China and discusses how they were prepared, cooked, and presented for consumption. It goes on to discuss various technologies in use in those early times and it provides information about ancient and early classical texts and recipes. It details the evolution and fermentation of alcoholic drinks, soybean processing, meat and fish fermentation, fermenting and pickling of vegetables, production of oils and sugars, and the processing of wheat flours. There is also information about tea processing followed by its consumption and health aspects, and considerable discussion of four nutrition deficiency diseases of early times: goiter, beri beri, night blindness, and rickets.

Throughout, there are quotations from early sources and explanations of the science along with clarifications and translations. This many-marriage of history, language and technical understandings make the price of the book pale in terms of value received.

The survey of literature about materials and the culinary understandings are major contributions to food scholarship. Comparisons between Chinese and Western understandings and usage that are detailed in this book are valuable and written by a food processing professional who served as a Program Director of The National Science Foundation in Washington D.C. He undertook a task long begging attention and provided detailed, methodical, even captivating information. He made Chinese contributions to the field of food science available in English. Earlier Needham volumes drew tributes about their 'immense and astonishing work or erudition no praise can be too high' and 'a volume authoritative, fascinating and illuminating, sure in the unraveling of the complexities of the evidence, also sweeping yet significantly detailed treatment of scientific thought in China.' All true. Once again, this volume relates to the genius that is Chinese cuisine. In it is an opportunity to appreciate the great and unbelievably early contributions the Chinese made to culinary understandings. Brain cells and tastebuds offer thanks for the enormous effort expended to bring this wide-ranging informative scholarly work called: Science & Civilization in China.

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