My information is largely gotten from the Food article on the Minecraft Wiki.
There are 23 food items in the game as of Minecraft 1.4.7:
- Baked potato
- Cooked chicken
- Cooked fish
- Cooked porkchop
- Golden apple
- Golden carrot
- Melon slice
- Mushroom stew
- Poisonous potato
- Pumpkin pie
- Raw beef
- Raw chicken
- Raw fish
- Raw porkchop
- Rotten flesh
- Spider eye
Each one of these, when eaten, restore both some hunger and some saturation. The hunger can be seen on the lower right side of your screen when you play Minecraft. Its maximum value is 20 points, where 2 hunger points are represented by 1 chicken drumstick icon or "shank" as the wiki calls it. As you play the game, your hunger will slowly decrease, and you need to eat food to get it back. Then there is saturation, a "hidden" hunger bar. Saturation used to determine whether or not you have eaten enough food to heal. The maximum size of your saturation is equal to the current amount of hunger you have. If your health is at 20, your saturation will be at most 20. There are a couple things that saturation does:
- If your saturation is above 17, your health will heal. That means you need to have 17 or more hunger in order to heal.
- If your saturation is at 0, which means your hunger is empty, you will lose health.
Something to look out for is filling up your hunger bar too fast without filling your saturation. Once you're at full hunger, you can't eat anymore. Even if your saturation is low, you still won't be able to eat and increase it.
I have done some reading, and there are four tiers of food, based up on the ratio of how much hunger they restore to how much saturation they restore. Mojang seems to have intentionally done this in such a way that the food falls into these four categories. I will simply go from tier to tier giving advice for what foods to use or avoid in each group.
The only food you find in tier 1 are golden apples and golden carrots. Golden carrots are made using regular carrots and gold nuggets, and seem to be the most efficient food to eat. They don't restore much hunger - 6 - but take care of a bunch of saturation. Golden apples are a little less effective in both hunger and saturation, but have the extra effect of regenerating health for 4 seconds. This potentially makes them more powerful than the golden carrots, since they restore health regardless of what your hunger is.
In this category you get cooked porkchops, cooked beef, and spider eyes. I would stay away from spider eyes because they restore 2 hunger points (1 shank) then poison you for 30 seconds, which is annoying. The other two food items do exactly the same thing, which includes restoring 8 hunger. Unless you have huge supplies of gold, these are the best food to have with you.
Here you find baked potatoes, bread, carrots, cooked chicken, cooked fish, and mushroom stew. For each hunger they restore, they also restore 1.2 saturation. For this group, baked potatoes probably do the most good and are likely the easiest and quickest to get. Baked potatoes, cooked chicken, and mushroom stew all do the exact same amount of good for the payer, but breeding chickens or searching for mushrooms may very well be more time-consuming than growing and cooking potatoes.
In this category, bread and cooked fish do the same amount of good as well. Bread is a common, reliable food source.
Lastly are carrots. These are less effective than the others, thus probably isn't recommended as a main food source.
In this group you find food that restore more hunger than saturation. As I will mention in a moment, these may actually have their uses when your hunger bar is low. Melon slices, potatoes, poisonous potatoes, pumpkin pie, the raw foods (beef, chicken, fish, and porkchops), and regular apples are in this group.
Although maybe not the easiest to craft, pumpkin pie stands out for restoring 8 hunger (4 shanks). That's the same amount of hunger as cooked beef and porkshops, but it restores much less saturation - about a third as much.
Apples are the second-most effective in the group. Raw beef and porkchops are slightly less useful.
Raw chicken, raw fish, melon slices, and poisonous potatoes restore small amounts of food and saturation. Raw chicken has a 30% chance of giving you food poisoning, which reduces its efficiency, so avoid it if possible. Poisonous potatoes guarantee food poisoning, so they should also be kept away from.
Regular potatoes are half as effective as the ones in the previous paragraph. They do very little good.
These are the least effective foods. Three are in this group: cake, cookies, and rotten flesh.
Cake is the oddball among foods. You place it like a block and can eat up to 6 slices of it. Each restores 2 hunger, for a total of 12 hunger per cake. Once a cake is placed, you can't pick it back up. It's a good food for sharing among a group, and might be best utilized as a public item for people to restore health on the fly, but it's not very effective. Cookies come in stacks of 8. A full stack is able to restore 16 hunger, but won't do much for your saturation. Rotten flesh, while more potent than its counterparts, will usually poison you, making it less useful than cake or cookies.
Applying this Knowledge
With all of this in mind, here's some tips for using food properly:
- As much as possible, eat cooked porkchops or cooked beef. These give the typical player the most bang for your buck.
- If you have no passive mob farms, baked potatoes are the next best thing. You can farm potatoes then cook them in the furnace. Its counterpart that doesn't rely on mobs, mushroom stew, can be quicker to make but only if you've already got a decent supply of mushrooms, but that's slower.
- Bread is very easy to make in large quantities. Although not the best thing in the game, the fact it's so common and simple to make balances out the lack of restoring power it has compared to baked potatoes or cooked chicken.
- Rotten flesh isn't good as a main food source. Instead, use it to heal your dogs. Alternatively, if you're in a spot where your health is low and all you really need is to restore health a bit without worrying about hunger, you can chow down on a lot of flesh.
- Is your hunger at or near zero? Eat something from tier 3. For every 1 hunger these foods restore, they restore 1.2 saturation. This is the most balanced group you'll find. Baked potatoes shine once again here. Eating anything from tier 1 or 2 to get your health back up will waste saturation points once you're nearly filled.
- If your hunger is low, don't eat pumpkin pie. It will fill your hunger much faster than your saturation, which is not desirable since you will end up getting hungry again sooner than if you had eaten something more balanced.
- Some of the easier to get foods, such as carrots, potatoes, apples, and melon slices don't do a whole lot of good. I suppose you might want to eat those while you still have plenty of hunger bars left, since they will fill those up while also filling your saturation, saving more powerful foods for other uses.
This was a brief examination of the Minecraft food system. It was certainly educational for me to come to a better understanding of how these things works. With this information, perhaps you too can learn how to more effectively handle hunger and food.