Food culture and food history books are almost always a joy to read for me. I love learning about the origin of recipes and the history of food. Food is an essential and indispensable part of the culture. Some of the food and spices changed the history and fate of many nations. And reading about them is always a delight.
Food culture and food history books teach us about humankind’s history. Food history is an interdisciplinary field that examines the history and the cultural, economic, environmental, and sociological impacts of food and human nutrition. As you can see, there is a whole world inside this field.
The food culture and food history books I added to this exciting list will teach you a lot, and I must say they are all entertaining books. We all like to talk about food and recipes. Talking about food is easy because it is universal, and we all eat food to survive. The differences between how nations consume their food are, in my opinion, the desert. I hope you enjoy food culture and food history books on this list and find a book you’ll love.
Food Culture and Food History Books
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat – Bee Wilson
Bee Wilson is the food writer and historian who writes as the ‘Kitchen Thinker’ in the Sunday Telegraph, and is the author of Swindled!. Her charming and original new book, Consider the Fork, explores how the implements we use in the kitchen have shaped the way we cook and live. I always turn to Wilson when I want to read food culture and food history books.
This is the story of how we have tamed fire and ice, wielded whisks, spoons, graters, mashers, pestles and mortars, all in the name of feeding ourselves. Bee Wilson takes us on an enchanting culinary journey through the incredible creations, inventions and obsessions that have shaped how and what we cook. From huge Tudor open fires to sous-vide machines, the birth of the fork to Roman gadgets, Consider the Fork is the previously unsung history of our kitchens.
Bee Wilson writes a weekly food column, ‘The Kitchen Thinker’ in The Sunday Telegraph, for which she has three times been named the Guild of Food Writers Food Journalist of the Year. Her previous books include The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us and Swindled!. Before she became a food writer, she was a Research Fellow in History at St John’s College, Cambridge. She has also been a semi-finalist on Masterchef. Her favourite kitchen implement is currently the potato ricer. An interesting one from food culture and food history books.
A History of Food in 100 Recipes – William Sitwell
This book is a popular one among food culture and food history books. The ingredients, cooks, techniques and tools that have shaped our love of food.
We all love to eat and most of us have a favourite ingredient or dish. In today’s world we can get the food we want, when we want it, but how many of us really know where our much-loved recipes come from, who invented them and how they were originally cooked? In this book William Sitwell, culinary expert on BBC2’s ‘A Question of Taste’ and editor of Waitrose Kitchen magazine, takes us on a colourful, whirlwind journey as he explores the fascinating history of cuisine.
This book is a celebration of the great dishes, techniques and above all brilliant cooks who have, over the centuries, created the culinary landscape we now enjoy. Any lover of fine food who has ever wondered about the origins of the methods and recipes we now take for granted will find A History of Food in 100 Recipes required reading. As well as shining a light on food’s glorious past, there are contributions from a glittering array of stars of British cuisine, including Marco Pierre White, Delia Smith, Heston Blumenthal, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver.
In an incisive and humorous narrative, Sitwell enters an Egyptian tomb to reveal the earliest recipe for bread and discovers the greatest party planner of the Middle Ages. He uncovers the extraordinary and poetic roots of the roast dinner and tells the heart-rending story of the forgotten genius who invented the pressure cooker. And much, much more. An exciting one from food culture and food history books.
Food in History – Reay Tannahill
An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights–like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced the population growth and urban expansion. A must-read among food culture and food history books.
History of Food – Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat
An award-winning one among food culture and food history books. This wide-ranging and comprehensive reference history covers in one volume the history of foodstuffs, the story of cuisine and the social history of eating. From the origins of mankind, and the transition from a vegetable to an increasingly carnivorous diet, the story unfolds of the interrelationship between people and diet, between particular foods and social mores, between dietary custom and cuisine.
A strong theme of natural history runs through the book. Bees and honey are examined and discussed, as are pulses, soya, fungi, cereals and the sources of vegetable oils. Game and meat of all kinds from poultry to horsemeat are described, as are all kinds of sea foods. Domestic animals, vegetable and fruit farming, fish farming and other human initiatives are compared with the economic markets they serve, and the dietary effects they have. Foods of pleasure, from confectionery to wine, from coffee to caviar are also covered.
This vast survey concludes with an investigation of scientific issues, including methods of food preservation, dietetics and the importance of vitamins. A selection of significant illustrations is included in the text, and there is a comprehensive bibliography and index. The French edition of this book won the History Prize of the Societe des Gens de Lettres de France. A must-read among food culture and food history books.
An Edible History of Humanity – Tom Standage
More than simply sustenance, food historically has been a kind of technology, changing the course of human progress by helping to build empires, promote industrialization, and decide the outcomes of wars. Tom Standage draws on archaeology, anthropology, and economics to reveal how food has helped shape and transform societies around the world, from the emergence of farming in China by 7500 b.c. to the use of sugar cane and corn to make ethanol today. An Edible History of Humanity is a fully satisfying account of human history, among food culture and food history books. An interesting one among food culture and food history books.
Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History – Rachel Laudan
One of the best among food culture and food history books. Rachel Laudan tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of the world’s great cuisines from the mastery of grain cooking some twenty thousand years ago, to the present in this superbly researched book. Probing beneath the apparent confusion of dozens of cuisines to reveal the underlying simplicity of the culinary family tree, she shows how periodic seismic shifts in culinary philosophy” beliefs about health, the economy, politics, society and the gods prompted the construction of new cuisines, a handful of which, chosen as the cuisines of empires, came to dominate the globe.
Cuisine and Empire shows how merchants, missionaries, and the military took cuisines over mountains, oceans, deserts, and across political frontiers. Laudan’s innovative narrative treats cuisine, like language, clothing, or architecture, as something constructed by humans. By emphasizing how cooking turns farm products into food and by taking the globe rather than the nation as the stage, she challenges the agrarian, romantic, and nationalistic myths that underlie the contemporary food movement. An incredible one among food culture and food history books.
Food: The History of Taste – Professor Paul Freedman
One of the first I read among food culture and food history books. Surveys the history of changing tastes in food and fine dining – what was available for people to eat, and how it was prepared and served – from prehistory to the present day
Since earliest times food has encompassed so much more than just what we eat – whole societies can be revealed and analysed by their cusines. In this wide-ranging book, leading historians from Europe and America piece together from a myriad sources the culinary accomplishments of diverse civilizations, past and present, and the pleasures of dining.
Ten chapters cover the food and taste of the hunter-gatherers and first farmers of Prehistory; the rich Mediterranean cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome; the development of gastronomy in Imperial China; Medieval Islamic cuisine; European food in the Middle Ages; the decisive changes in food fashions after the Renaissance; the effect of the Industrial Revolution on what people ate; the rise to dominance of French cuisine in the 19th and 20th centuries; the evolution of the restaurant; the contemporary situation where everything from slow to fast food vies for our attention.
Throughout, the entertaining story of worldwide food traditions provides the ideal backdrop to today’s roaming the globe for great gastronomic experiences. For the ones looking for traditions among food culture and food history books.
Food: A Culinary History – Jean-Louis Flandrin
For the ones interested in culinary history among food culture and food history books. When did we first serve meals at regular hours? Why did we begin using individual plates and utensils to eat? When did “cuisine” become a concept and how did we come to judge food by its method of preparation, manner of consumption, and gastronomic merit? Food: A Culinary History explores culinary evolution and eating habits from prehistoric times to the present, offering surprising insights into our social and agricultural practices, religious beliefs, and most unreflected habits.
The volume dispels myths such as the tale that Marco Polo brought pasta to Europe from China, that the original recipe for chocolate contained chili instead of sugar, and more. As it builds its history, the text also reveals the dietary rules of the ancient Hebrews, the contributions of Arabic cookery to European cuisine, the table etiquette of the Middle Ages, and the evolution of beverage styles in early America. It concludes with a discussion on the McDonaldization of food and growing popularity of foreign foods today. An amazing one among food culture and food history books.
How Carrots Won The Trojan War: Curious (But True) Stories of Common Vegetables – Rebecca Rupp
An excellent choice for history lovers of food culture and food history books. Vegetables are more than just food for humans: they’ve been characters, companions, and even protagonists throughout history. “How Carrots Won the Trojan War” is a delightful collection of little-known stories about the origins, legends, and historical significance of 23 of the world’s most popular vegetables. Curious cooks, devoted gardeners, and casual readers alike will be fascinated by the far-fetched tales of their favourite foods’ pasts.
Readers will discover why Roman gladiators were massaged with onion juice before battle, how celery contributed to Casanova’s conquests, how peas almost poisoned General Washington, why some seventeenth-century turnips were considered degenerate, and, of course, how carrots helped the Greeks win the Trojan War (hint: carrots enabled the soldiers to stay inside the Trojan horse without a break). An interesting one among food culture and food history books.
100 Million Years of Food: What Our Ancestors Ate and Why it Matters Today – Stephen Le
One of the best among food culture and food history books. There are few areas of modern life that offer as much information and advice, often contradictory, as diet and health: eat a lot of meat, don’t eat meat; whole-grains are healthy, whole-grains are a disaster; and on it goes. Biological anthropologist Stephen Le cuts through the confusing mass of information to present the long view of our diet. In 100 Million Years of Food Le takes readers on a historic and geographic tour of how different cuisines have evolved in tandem with their particular environments, as our ancestors took advantage of the resources and food available to them.
Like his mentor Jared Diamond, Le uses history and science to present a fascinating and wide-ranging tour of human history as viewed through what and how we eat. Travelling the world to places as far- flung as Vietnam, Kenya, Nova Scotia, and Iowa, Le visits people producing food using traditional methods as well as modern techniques, and looks at how our relationship to food has strayed from centuries of tradition, to mass- produced assembly lines dependent on chemicals that bring with them a host of problems.
100 Million Years of Food argues that our ancestral diets and lifestyles are the best first line of defense in protecting our health; the optimal diet is to eat what your ancestors ate. In this clear-cut and compelling book, we learn not only what to eat, but how our diets are the product of millions of years of evolution. An interesting one among food culture and food history books.
My first among food culture and food history books. Elegantly written by a distinguished culinary historian, “Food Is Culture” explores the innovative premise that everything having to do with food–its capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption–represents a cultural act. Even the “choices” made by primitive hunters and gatherers were determined by a culture of economics (availability) and medicine (digestibility and nutrition) that led to the development of specific social structures and traditions.
Massimo Montanari begins with the “invention” of cooking which allowed humans to transform natural, edible objects into cuisine. Cooking led to the creation of the kitchen, the adaptation of raw materials into utensils, and the birth of written and oral guidelines to formalize cooking techniques like roasting, broiling, and frying. An interesting one among food culture and food history books.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals – Michael Pollan
A popular one among food culture and food history books. What shall we have for dinner? Such a simple question has grown to have a very complicated answer. We can eat almost anything nature has to offer, but deciding what we should eat stirs anxiety.
Should we choose the organic apple or the conventional? If organic, local or imported? Wild fish or farmed? Low-carb or low-cal? As the American culture of fast food and unlimited choice invades the world, Pollan follows his next meal from land to table, tracing the origin of everything consumed and the implications for ourselves and our planet. His astonishing findings will shock all who care about what they put on their plate. An interesting one among food culture and food history books.
Physiology of Taste – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Food culture and food history books list would miss a lot without Brillat-Savarin. Brillat – Savarin’s unique, exuberant collection of dishes, experiences, reflections, history and philosophy raised gastronomy to an art form.
First published in France in 1825, this remarkable book reflected a new era in French cuisine: the advent of the restaurant, which gave the bourgeoisie the opportunity to select their dishes with precision and anticipation. Yet the author also gives his views on taste, diet and maintaining a healthy weight, on digestion, sleep, dreams and being a gourmand. Witty, shrewd and anecdotal, The Physiology of Taste not only contains some remarkable recipes, it an elegant argument for the pleasures of good food and a hearty appetite. An old book among food culture and food history books.
Food: A Cultural Culinary History – Ken Albala
An audio-book among food culture and food history books. Eating is an indispensable human activity. As a result, whether we realize it or not, the drive to obtain food has been a major catalyst across all of history, from prehistoric times to the present. Epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said it best: “Gastronomy governs the whole life of man.”
In fact, civilization itself began in the quest for food. Humanity’s transition to agriculture was not only the greatest social revolution in history, but it directly produced the structures and institutions we call “civilization.”
In 36 fascinating lectures, award-winning Professor Albala puts this extraordinary subject on the table, taking you on an enthralling journey into the human relationship to food. With this innovative course, you’ll travel the world discovering fascinating food lore and culture of all regions and eras – as an eye-opening lesson in history as well as a unique window on what we eat today. A fun textbook among food culture and food history books.
Much Depends on Dinner – Margaret Visser
A fun one among food culture and food history books, Much Depends on Dinner is a delightful and intelligent history of the food we eat. Presented as a meal, each chapter represents a different course or garnish. Borrowing from Byron’s classic poem “Don Juan” for her title (“Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner”), writer Margaret Visser looks to the most ordinary American dinner for her subject – corn on the cob with butter and salt, roast chicken with rice, salad dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, and ice cream – submerging herself in the story behind each food.
In this indulgent and perceptive guide we hear the history of Corn Flakes, why canned California olives are so unsatisfactory (they’re picked green, chemically blackened, then sterilized), and the fact that in Africa, citrus fruit is eaten rind and all. For food lovers of all kinds, this unexpectedly funny and serious book is a treasure of information, shedding light on one of our most favorite pastimes. A book for the dinner lovers among food culture and food history books.
The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu – Dan Jurafsky
A fascinating one among food culture and food history books. Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?
In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.
Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like “rich” and “crispy,” zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.
The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky’s insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.
From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers. For the ones who are curious about linguistics among food culture and food history books.
Breakfast: A History – Heather Arndt Anderson
Breakfast: A History tells the story of how breakfast came to be the most important meal of the day. From the humble Roman times of stale bread soaked in diluted wine, to the drive-through McMuffin boom of the 1970s, Breakfast takes the reader on a lively adventure through time, uncovering the real stories behind our favorite breakfast foods. Breakfast is not just the meal that gets us going in the morning, but a driving force in history— forever altering the lives of peasants and kings alike, inspiring great works of art, and even changing the way we build our homes.
Full of wry humor and captivating anecdotes, Breakfast is a treat for students of history, gastronomes, and anyone who’s ever wondered where their waffles came from. Love breakfast the most? This one is for you among food culture and food history books.
Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide – Cecily Wong
Wonder is around every corner, and on every plate. The curious minds behind Atlas Obscura now turn to the hidden curiosities of food, which becomes a gateway to fascinating stories about human history, science, art, and tradition—like the first book, all organized by country, lavishly illustrated, and full of surprises. For the ones who like their books with beautiful illustrations among food culture and food history books.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses – A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Love drinks? This one is for you among food culture and food history books. Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages. In ancient Greece wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, helping spread Greek culture abroad. Spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, fortifying seamen on long voyages and oiling the pernicious slave trade.
Although coffee originated in the Arab world, it stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, when coffeehouses became centers of intellectual exchange. And hundreds of years after the Chinese began drinking tea, it became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy. Finally, though carbonated drinks were invented in 18th-century Europe they became a 20th-century phenomenon, and Coca-Cola in particular is the leading symbol of globalization.
For Tom Standage, each drink is a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations. You may never look at your favorite drink the same way again. For the ones who like their drinks more than anything among food culture and food history books.
Art of Eating – M. F. K. Fisher
Ruth Reichl – ‘Mary Frances [Fisher] has the extraordinary ability to make the ordinary seem rich and wonderful. Her dignity comes from her absolute insistence on appreciating life as it comes to her’.
Julia Child – ‘How wonderful to have here in my hands the essence of M.F.K. Fisher, whose wit and fulsome opinions on food and those who produce it, comment upon it, and consume it are as apt today as they were several decades ago, when she composed them. Why did she choose food and hunger she was asked, and she replied, ‘When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it …and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied. This is the stuff we need to hear, and to hear again and again’.
Alice Waters – ‘This comprehensive volume should be required reading for every cook. It defines in a sensual and beautiful way the vital relationship between food and culture’. For the ones who like food writing the most among food culture and food history books.
BONUS: The Story of Food: An Illustrated History of Everything We Eat
Explore the rich stories, symbolism, and traditions that come wrapped up in the food on our plates – food that not only feeds our bodies but also makes up our culture. In The Story of Food our millennia-old relationship with nearly 200 foods is sumptuously illustrated, with tales from all over the world – from nuts and seeds to noodles and meat.
The Story of Food tells the extraordinary stories behind the foods we eat; did you know that China is the largest producer of lettuce in the world? Or that garlic was eaten by Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece to enhance performance. In ancient Egypt it was fed to slaves to boost their health and stamina?
A true celebration of food in all its forms, this book explores the early efforts of humans in their quest for sustenance through the stories of individual foods. Covering all food types including nuts and grains, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, and herbs and spices, this fascinating reference provides the facts on all aspects of a food’s history. It explains how foods have become a part of our culture from their origins to how they are eaten and their place in world cuisine.
The Story of Food is a feast for the eyes, with stories that intrigue, surprise, and enthral. An exceptional coffee table book among food culture and food history books.
Check out my other lists about books!
Is there any other food culture and food history books that should be on this list? Please share your favourite books with us in the comments section below.