Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Tangentially, I recently bought Kenji's new book [1], and my friends and I have been having tremendous fun reading through and trying out the recipes therein. Kenji's empirical approach and attention to the science behind cooking (not to mention sassy writing) really appeals to our inner geeks.


Got this book as well, it's fun to read through and I can impress friends with simple yet tasty recipes. Bought it mostly because I'm a huge fan of seriouseats and Kenji's posts especially, so I try to show my support.

I really hope that the book uses metric units. I recently read "The Science of Good Cooking", which was interesting but unfortunately used US units throughout, which makes it quite unscientific in my opinion.

"On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee is another great book about the chemistry of cooking, and I especially like it since it doesn't try hard to be hip or cool as opposed to some other books about cooking chemistry I could name.

The units have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not something is scientific.

When you add salt to bread, and the recipe calls for one teaspoon, a teaspoon of kosher salt is not the same as table salt or sea salt. So how much is it? (It's significantly different.)

When something calls for three cups of flour, and it's a humid day, or a dry day, does that affect the quantity? Yes it does. Significantly enough to affect bread.

Both of the above reasons are why bread bakers weigh all their ingredients, including water.

You can weigh things with either metric or imperial units. Measuring volume when you want to know mass is a mistake you can make regardless of what units you're using.

I don't see how weighing the flour will help. A given volume of moist flour will weigh more than dry flour because of the water in it, so you'd still have a problem on humid days.

You can't weigh things with Imperial units because they are British units of volume. You weigh things with avoirdupois units.

Age and storage conditions of the flour have much more to do with the moisture content than the humidity of the individual day.

But yes, measure by weight.

pounds vs kilograms isn't particularly important (as long as you keep them straight!)

Real cooks would never use table salt. Its almost always sea salt or kosher salt. Would you rather have something nature made or something made by a chemical process in a plant?

I own a lot of Grilling/BBQ books and normal recipe books, almost everyone says to never use table salt somewhere in the book.

My Himalayan salt is quite good for seasoning and was deposited millions of years ago. Compare that to Morton's table salt with iodine my grandmother used to use.

Iodized salt is responsible for raising the average IQ of billions of people around the world because iodine deficiency leads to intellectual and developmental disabilities. It's not some sinister additive that people need to avoid. It's one of the most successful public health efforts ever.


I'm sure I would get the recommended Iodine dose from any sort of processed foods I eat or from any cheaper restaurants I frequent that use table salt.

There are many people that dont cook at home and I doubt their Iodine levels are low.

Also I never said it was some sinister corporation spreading false info.

This is very true.

Given that you have enough iodine in your diet though, avoiding it in seasoning is sensible.

They are very different - table salt conforms to a quality standard while the others have varying trace contaminants. They may add to flavor, but not in any reliable predictable way. And the major active ingredient of both is sodium.

Its fun to play with cool, colorful salts. By the time the cooking is done, I'd bet cash money no one can tell the difference.

   By the time the cooking is done, I'd bet cash money no one can tell the difference.
I suspect you'd lose that bet - informally I've tried many experiments with iodized and non-iodized salts, and the iodine can change flavor.

Besides that, one of the main reasons to use different salts is crystal size which can have significant effect (depends on what you are doing, obviously). For example, koshering salt is called that because of its use in koshering meats, where the large crystal structure helps control absorption. Likewise in "finishing" applications.

If you follow many recipes are use table salt instead of kosher salt I guarantee it will come out salty.

Serious Eats has an article and it really validates a part of both of our points[1]:

>"So long as your salt is going to be dissolved and distributed evenly into the final dish...there's no reason to use kosher salt...Just remember, check your recipes and make sure to compensate for table salt's density when adding it."

If you have access to Good Eats, Alton Brown explains it pretty well.[2]



> Real cooks would never use table salt.

Real cooks use table salt all the time. Other salts are mostly useful as finishing salts (where the subtle distinctions in flavor and texture between different salts, or different sized grinds of the same salt, come out, and where color distinctions can impact presentation) rather than in cooking itself (where they don't.)

> My Himalayan salt is quite good for seasoning and was deposited millions of years ago. Compare that to Morton's table salt with iodine my grandmother used to use.

...and, what? Both are good for seasoning, the table salt with iodine is better for avoiding the (otherwise fairly common) iodine deficiency (conversely, its a good thing to avoid if you are iodine sensitive). I'd rather use the Himalayan salt as a finishing salt for some things.

Also, table salt vs. other salt and iodized salt vs. non-iodized salt are orthogonal distinctions (and table vs. other salt is a different distinction than "made in nature" vs. "made in a chemical process in a plant".)

Kosher, Sea, and some other salts are available iodized, and table salt is available non-iodized.

Not concerned about whether "nature" made it so much as I am about grain size. The bigger crystals in kosher/sea salt are better for a lot of uses.

At the same time, if you're just gonna boil water and dissolve some salt in it, it doesn't really matter so much as the actual amount of salt.

If you are concerned about grain size I doubt the only thing you use salt for is to boil things.

real cooks use butterflies

Since this is getting downvoted a lot by "imperialists":

I do not say that one cannot work scientifically using non-metric units, I'm just saying that it has a non-scientific appeal since even in the US scientific publications normally use SI units (kg, m, s) since they are well defined and easy to calculate with.

Imperial units, on the contrary, are based on the length of body parts and sticks or the volume of some arbitrary measurement cup. Granted, the meter is a bit arbitrary as well (but at least based on the geometry of the planet), but the nice thing about metric units is that they can be converted easily: 100 cm = 1 m, 1000 m = 1 km. 1000 g = 1 kg. Try that with inches, feet, yards and miles.

So I really stay with my assessment that working in non-metric/SI units is contradictory to professional scientific work.

based on the length of body parts and sticks or the volume of some arbitrary measurement cup

Let's not forget the weight of a stone!


Good thing he's a professional american cook, not a professional scientist.

Again, I'm not trying to devalue the work of the author here, I just say that his choice of units is non-scientific.

I had a look using Amazon's preview of the book.

It uses "imperial" units, though I assume they're actually "English" units (i.e. American rather than British). This matters for volumes, a British pint is larger ("a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter", as my grandma taught me).

It has a few conversions in the introduction, but with false precision -- an oven temperature of 300F is converted to 149C.

It argues against using volume measures for dry or sticky ingredients, but the only example I see in the preview asks for "2 tablespoons of butter".

Kenji has stated many times on SE when this comes up that he's catering to US home cooks with measurements

I don't have it in front of me but he typically gives us volume and also grams for measurement. That said I fail to see why semantic sugar like units would really skew your opinion here, at the end of the day his book is aimed at a home cook. It's not modernist cuisine

Yes of course, but if you are used to metric units it's pretty hard to develop a good intuition around pounds, cups, inches and ounces, and I find intuition and the ability to clearly visualize proportions pretty important when cooking.

That's orthogonal to whether or not kenji was being scientific in his methods

Yes, while if you have prior experience with cooking in the US (but are still interested in the science), then you are used to pounds, cups, inches, and ounces, and may find it hard to develop a good intuition around liters and grams. (Also, it will be easier to find things like measuring cups and spoons delimited in the former.) They're just units...

  >  They're just units...
Indeed. Units that correlate (1kg water == 1 litre of water) and are intuitive (100C = boiling water).

The fact that the imperial units aren't even common amongst the two remaining countries that use some number of them is just 12oz of icing on the cake. It's frustrating to find an otherwise fine cooking or science book ruined by the prose pandering to some elderly subset of 5% of the population.

I understand the sentiment, but I think you are underestimating the subset of the population that traditional units "pander" to - including, anecdotally, me. I'm 23, far from elderly, and like many of the people on this site, work with computers for a living; I'm not uneducated or anti-intellectual. But I have minimal background in the physical sciences, so never got much exposure to metric units that way, and living in the US, I've never really needed them outside of that. Sure, the metric units are for the most part inherently superior (although I'm a fan of degrees Fahrenheit [1]), while especially for cooking the traditional ones are a mess: e.g. the relationship between tablespoons and teaspoons and the two types of ounces is something which, since I haven't invested that much time in cooking either (I'm working on it), I still haven't memorized. Yet the traditional ones are still what I and many others have been almost exclusively exposed to.

Sure, I could go out of my way to buy utensils and look up measurements in metric. On one hand, it would be a bit more forward thinking, especially since I want to try living in Japan at some point and there would be one less change to worry about. On the other, here and now, it would make it harder to talk about recipes with other people.

But mostly I just don't care. They're just units. If units "ruin" a book for you then you should reconsider your standards of evaluation.

[1] http://lolsnaps.com/upload_pic/FahrenheitVsCelsiusVsKelvin-6...

> elderly subset of 5% of the population

He's writing a book for a US audience. The US audience uses US customary units for measurement and has done so since 'forever' basically. The subset of US citizens that knows metric well enough to be comfortable using it for things like cooking is small enough to be irrelevant for his book.

Would it be better to use the metric system for everything in the US? Of course. Will it happen in the next 100 years? Nope.

And I'm really confused about the elderly part of your statement. Do you correlate being young in the US with knowing the metric system? If so you are unfortunately wrong. Actually you are more likely to find metric knowledge in the general populous in the older crowed due to an attempt in the 70's to convert to the metric system. So, outside of areas that use metric internally, the older population is more likely to know metric than the younger ones.

1/20 of the planet's population is not 1/20 of the market's population, particularly when writing in English.

Worst case, you can spend $10 and get a set of measuring cups and spoons.

That's a lot better than the complete clusterfuck that is working on most mechanical equipment - you'll all too often find a bizarre amalgamation of metric & standard hex head, allen, torx and other fasteners, all mixed together - wrenches are nowhere near as inexpensive.

>That's a lot better than the complete clusterfuck that is working on most mechanical equipment //

Wouldn't that largely be fixed by the USA moving to metric.

That doesn't magically replace 100 years of legacy parts and equipment.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact