A review: Flavor Thesaurus

Have you ever wondered what flavours work together.  Have you ever wanted to experiment but needed some inspiration.  This book is the answer to all those questions.

The book was written by Niki Segnit, who according to her website ‘had not so much as peeled a potato in her early twenties, when, almost by accident, she discovered that she loved cooking’.  She writes a post in The Times about food combinations.  The book itself has won many awards.

Reviews online are glowing and many people call it ‘informative’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘essential’.  Other less favourable reviews state that it’s a ‘let down’ and the ‘cover is the best bit’.

The book itself is attractive to look at and on the inside cover it has a wheel of flavours.  In her introduction the author explains that she has sorted flavours into categories or flavour families.  It is certainly an interesting idea and looking at it, I suppose it helps to decipher what you’ll get from a certain flavour and whether or not it may work with your other flavours.  Otherwise, I don’t really see why else this would be of any use, as my initial assumption was that it might give an idea as to what works with what by looking across the wheel but this is obviously not the case.

flavour wheel.jpg

The book itself has an introduction from the author and is then split down into sections under the flavour families, so roasted comes first followed by meaty then cheesy following the wheel around.  At the end of the book there is a bibliography, recipe index, general index and a pairings index.

Each flavour family section has sub-sections, again this corresponds with the flavour wheel ie. under Mustardy, there are three sections, Wastercress, Caper, Horseradish.  Each sub-section such as Watercress has an introduction giving the ingredients background and information about how it works well.  Then it moves into pairings for Watercress.  It works alphabetically.  Every single pairing has a description, some shorter than others.  See the below extract for example:

Watercress & Blue Cheese

The sweet-saltiness of Stilton contrasts nicely with the bitter pepper flavour of watercress.  You might also detect a faint metallic tang in them both, as if you’d let the tines of your fork linger in your mouth a moment too long.  By all means combine them in a salad with pear and walnut, or in a soup, souffle or tart.  But there’s nothing quite like spreading bread with buttery Stilton, deep enough to leave a pleasing impression of your teeth when you bite into it, and scattering it with watercress leaves.  See also Parsnip and Watercress, page 221.

At page 221 it carries on to suggest adding warm roasted parsnip with watercress leaves, croutons and crumble blue cheese then to dress it with a French dressing.

The recipes index is a useful addition as it lists all the recipes mentioned in the book and where to find them as if the general index which is useful if you are trying to find a specific ingredient.

The real gem of this book, though, is the pairings index.  In alphabetical order it lists every single flavour and the flavour pairings.  It then gives you the page number to see what was mentioned regarding the pairing.

My thoughts

My favourite part of the book is definitely the pairings index.  In those 17 pages, the whole book is summed up with a quick, easy reference list of all the flavour combinations mentioned in the book.  If I’m in the middle of cooking, I can quickly flip to this section and see what works well and what doesn’t.

I think that the concept itself is genius.  Its perfect for budding cooks, people who want to experiment and want to break free from the constraints of their recipe books but don’t know where to begin.  Some of the combinations are super wacky too, some of them were so different I never would have imagined them together?

I love the way that Niki Segnit writes; she clearly loves food and some of the descriptions under each flavour combination are funny but always informative and useful, giving little recipes here and there.  Its full of inspiration and ideas.  I find that flicking through can give you a little of the inspiration that you need to be able to think outside of the box.

As with everything, there are negatives.  The list of flavours is limited to 99 although the author herself does mention this is the introduction.  It is understandable as there are so many flavours, you have to stop somewhere.

Finally I do feel it is important to highlight the following point to readers who may think that this book is something that they would be interested in.  This is best summed up by the below review that I found on Amazon.  The reviewer does give 5 stars but states:

What this book is not
– a book with detailed recipes (it doesn’t really have any recipes at all)
– a book with illustrations of food (there are no illustrations at all of food)
– a traditional cookery book (no measurements, no oven settings, no real cookery guide)

What this book is
– a jumping off point where you identify flavours with a brief guide to examples
– a well written explanation of how flavour combinations work
– a way for budding chefs to try new flavours with confidence

Have you read this book, let me know what you think.


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