The term "cooking" encompasses a vast range of methods, tools, and combinations of ingredients to improve the flavor or digestibility of food. Cooking technique, known as culinary art, generally requires the selection, measurement, and combining of ingredients in an ordered procedure in an effort to achieve the desired result. Constraints on success include the variability of ingredients, ambient conditions, tools, and the skill of the individual cook. The diversity of cooking worldwide is a reflection of the myriad nutritional, aesthetic, agricultural, economic, cultural, and religious considerations that affect it.
Saltiness is the taste of alkali metal ions such as sodium and potassium. It is found in almost every food in low to moderate proportions to enhance flavor, although to eat pure salt is regarded as highly unpleasant. There are many different types of salt, with each having a different degree of saltiness, including sea salt, fleur de sel, kosher salt, mined salt, and grey salt. Other than enhancing flavor, its significance is that the body needs and maintains a delicate electrolyte balance, which is the kidney's function. Salt may be iodized, meaning iodine has been added to it, a necessary nutrient that promotes thyroid function. Some canned foods, notably soups or packaged broths, tend to be high in salt as a means of preserving the food longer. Historically salt has long been used as a meat preservative as salt promotes water excretion. Similarly, dried foods also promote food safety.
The interaction of heat and carbohydrate is complex. Long-chain sugars such as starch tend to break down into simpler sugars when cooked, while simple sugars can form syrups. If sugars are heated so that all water of crystallisation is driven off, then caramelization starts, with the sugar undergoing thermal decomposition with the formation of carbon, and other breakdown products producing caramel. Similarly, the heating of sugars and proteins elicits the Maillard reaction, a basic flavor-enhancing technique.
The expansion of agriculture, commerce, trade, and transportation between civilizations in different regions offered cooks many new ingredients. New inventions and technologies, such as the invention of pottery for holding and boiling water, expanded cooking techniques. Some modern cooks apply advanced scientific techniques to food preparation to further enhance the flavor of the dish served.
Adulteration is a legal term meaning that a food product fails to meet the legal standards. One form of adulteration is an addition of another substance to a food item in order to increase the quantity of the food item in raw form or prepared form, which may result in the loss of actual quality of food item. These substances may be either available food items or non-food items. Among meat and meat products some of the items used to adulterate are water or ice, carcasses, or carcasses of animals other than the animal meant to be consumed.
Some foods not from animal or plant sources include various edible fungi, especially mushrooms. Fungi and ambient bacteria are used in the preparation of fermented and pickled foods like leavened bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, pickles, kombucha, and yogurt. Another example is blue-green algae such as Spirulina. Inorganic substances such as salt, baking soda and cream of tartar are used to preserve or chemically alter an ingredient.