This is surely a prize-winner among this year’s food-related books. One would think that it would be a dry and worthy tome. The sort that many own and none read. The Flavour Thesaurus has the linen hard-cover of dusty library volumes, but a peek inside and anyone with even a slight interest in food will be hooked.
It’s just as the title suggests, a book about flavour pairings. The talented author, Niki Segnit, considers 99 popular ingredients and offers pairing suggestions. There are the usual suspects such as chocolate and chilli but how’s about chocolate and bacon? Not so strange when one considers the classic American breakfast of pancakes with the sweet maple syrup and a serving of bacon; and there’s a trend just now for dark chocolate with salty caramel.
The book is in the style of the celebrated Roget’s Thesaurus. The front chapters offer the flavour matches and recipes. These are arranged by theme and have rather poetic titles such as Bramble and Hedge, Floral Fruity, Woodland and Green Grassy. The back chapter has an alphabetical list of ingredients with suggestions for classic and less well-known pairings.
The subject is contemporary and broad but it’s Niki Segnit who elevates this book from a quirky food encyclopaedia to a darn good read. Her wit shines through. Of Lemon and Coriander Leaf she writes: “This recipe spreads faster than gossip. I know because I gave it to somebody, who gave it to somebody else, who then made it for me and asked if I’d like to have the recipe.” It’s the human touch that will have you leafing through this at bedtime, as well as searching through its pages for that ingredient to make your mushroom sauce a bit more interesting. Add some anise. Who knew?
Niki embroiders anecdote with fact. She describes “The Monte Carlo, a supper club dating from 1906. The place isn’t retro: you’re just late. It has a tin ceiling and a copper bar and serves the kind of Martinis to make you see the Prohibitionist’s point.” Yes, this is a masterwork fit for any culinary alchemist but it will find a wider audience in ordinary food lovers who will taste their own dishes in a different way. It’s a book with wide appeal: to the food academic, and to the rest of us who just enjoy flavour. That is, after all, the reason why you are reading this review, and the reason you will buy the book. Intriguing isn’t it?
The Flavour Thesaurus – Pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook
Author: Niki Segnit
Published by: Bloomsbury
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018