One of the books I got for Christmas this year, and so far probably my favorite (thanks Mrs. BBB) is by British author Niki Segnit. The book is entitled The Flavor Thesaurus and is subtitled “A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook.” Just from skimming it and starting to read it, I know I’m going to love and it will be a favorite, much referred to book.
In the introduction was this gem, which should be obvious, but we rarely think about it.
Flavor is the not the same as taste. Taste is restricted to five qualities detectable on the tongue and elsewhere in the mouth: sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and “umami” (or savoriness). Flavor, on the other hand, is detected mainly thanks to our sense of smell, by the olfactory bulb and, to a lesser extent, orally. Pinch your nose and you can tell if an ingredient is sweet or salty, but not what the flavor is. Your sense of taste gives you a back-of-an-envelope sketch of what particular foodstuff is like: flavor fills in the details. Nonetheless, in its general, broadest terms use, the term “flavor” tends to incorporate taste, as well as the “trigeminal” qualities of ingredients — that is, the sensation of heat from chili, pepper and mustard, the cooling properties of menthol and the drawstring pucker of tannins in red wine and tea.
And while she’s talking about food, flavor is flavor. Naturally, it’s true of beer, as well.
The books itself is fascinating, here’s how it’s divided up, from the book’s website:
The back section lists, alphabetically, 99 popular ingredients, and suggests classic and less well known flavour matches for each. The front section contains an entry for every flavour match listed in the back section and is organised into 16 flavour themes such a Bramble & Hedge, Green & Grassy, and Earthy.
There are 980 entries in all and 200 recipes or suggestions are embedded in the text. It covers classic pairings such as pork & apple, lamb & apricot, and cucumber & dill; contemporary favourites like chocolate & chili, lobster & vanilla, and goat’s cheese & beetroot; and interesting but unlikely-sounding couples including black pudding & chocolate, lemon & beef, blueberry & mushroom, and watermelon & oyster.
It’s set up just like a regular thesaurus, but the headings are each specific foods. Take, for example, one of my favorites: the potato, which is under the “Earthy” section. There are 44 separate flavor pairings for potato with another flavor. Some are obvious, some are surprising, but all are intriguing. It’s very well written, in a casual, funny style. Here’s what she has to say about “Potato & Bacon.”
POTATOES & BACON: Driving past the Farmer’s Market Cafe on the A12 in Suffolk, England. I saw a sign outside that read, in huge letters. Ham Hock Hash. Nothing else. No other food, no opening times, nothing. Just three little words that launched a thousand U-turns.
If you love food, and especially pairing foods,, you’ll want to pick up this book.
Below is the overall flavor wheel she created for the book, listing the 16 major flavor types in the center ring and the main kinds of food that fall under each, in the outer ring.