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Book review: Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

Book review: Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit
Flavour Thesaurus
Niki Segnit
RRP £18.99
If the Government seriously wants to promote a deep-seated understanding of food and flavour in a population largely soothed by the clarion call of the microwave timer, they could do worse than render this book required reading. Written with passion, verve and humour, Segnit's original, highly conceptual book is a real labour of love.
The author's modus operandi is to both inform and inspire. It's difficult as a reader to avoid going off on a tangent when a particular flavour pairing sparks the chef in you. For this very reason, a notebook may well come in handy during even the most cursory browse.
The book is constructed around a selection of 99 popular ingredients and flavourings, following the form of the wonderful Roget's Thesaurus. If your copy of said title is as careworn as mine, 'The Flavour Thesaurus' is for you. A vast 980 entries are made navigable by alphabetical indexes and flavour themes- Green & Grassy, Bramble & Hedge- a listmakers' paradise.
Endpapers feature a colourful flavour wheel, classing the ingredients under the aforementioned themes- a feature which works particularly well when standing in front of a less-than-bountiful fridge or storecupboard late at night. Ranging further into the book, you'll come across anise with alarming regularity- the author herself describes it as the 'sweet, wonderful, beloved pet flavour of The Flavour Thesaurus'.
Pairings veer from the everyday ('beef and horseradish') to the thoroughly surprising- see 'avocado and coffee'. All entries are well considered, underpinned by sound analysis both scientific and personal. The author even makes a valiant attempt to plead for an unlikely combination of 'blueberry and mushroom'- and, when a delicious Northern Italian lasagne is described, it's really rather a convincing argument.
Segnit's prose is engaging and conversational. She's not always a fan of classic flavour pairings, is unafraid of subjectivity, and communicates her ire with wry wit. Her research is accurate and reaches broadly in terms of both timescale and material source, with the author's love of cookbook perusal clearly demonstrated.
Segnit wrote her book for people like her- to inspire rather than dictate to a reader slavishly following her every teaspoon. Entries suggest many jumping-off points for recipe creation, but are just as likely to ignite the reader's own passion for culinary experimentation.
In today's vastly over-saturated cookbook market, it's all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of 'how-to' manuals and simply decide 'not to' at all. 'The Flavour Thesaurus' fills a very wide gap in the market- a book for those who not only love to eat, but, perhaps more importantly, to think.
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3 October 2010
By: Zoe Perrett
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