Monday, 5 July 2010
The Flavour Thesaurus (Niki Segnit)
Intrigued by reviews of The Flavour Thesaurus in both the Guardian and on Desperate Reader's blog, I was very excited when a copy came my way via Alice from Bloomsbury and have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last week or so flicking through it - you know the way with thesauri or dictionaries - you look up one thing, get distracted by something else, and then find that half an hour later you have taken somewhat of a voyage throughout the book.
But what is it, and how does it work? Segnit starts with a flavour wheel (half of which is shown on the front cover), broken down into types of flavour, such as roasted, meaty, citrus fruity, floral fruity, within which 99 flavours are categorised. She then pairs flavours together. The bulk of the book is devoted to a paragraph or two about each flavour combination, sometimes with a recipe, or sometimes with a reference to other food writers, for example, under chocolate and cherry she refers to Nigella's wonderful cupcakes which I remember having made. Organized by the 99 different flavours, the only annoying thing about the book, is that obviously each flavour combination is listed twice, within the section of each flavour, but only in full in one section, so browsing through the cherry combinations, you will have to flick elsewhere in the book if you want to find out how it goes with walnut or chocolate for example. Thankfully there is also an index at the back where all of the flavour combinations are listed in brief, so you can get an idea of what flavours will go with what and then turn to the relevant page for more detail.
There are some really intriguing flavour combinations in the book - avocado and chocolate is one that I would certainly not have come up with. But apparently in Mexico, avocado is more of a fruit than a veg, and often used in making milkshakey drinks. Lime and butternut squash is another combo that I have not contemplated, and I'm thinking of pepping up my butternut squash and chilli risotto with some lime zest and juice the next time I make it - I think that would turn an Autumnal dish into one with a bit of a summery zing.
What is wonderful about this book is the way that it makes you think about ingredients. Scarcely a meal goes by now in our flat without consulting the thesaurus on how else we might have cooked our meal - what flavours should we have paired with the prawns? And how else might we serve the strawberries sitting in the fridge for pudding (surprisingly not with ginger as it happens, although I think that is a match made in heaven, but with white chocolate, or chocolate, or rhubarb perhaps).