Why Niki Segnit’s ‘The Flavor Thesaurus’ Stands Out Among Cookbooks Even A Decade Later

Written in 2010, London author Niki Segnit’s The thesaurus of flavors is not your typical cookbook. The thesaurus of flavors delivers what it promises: “pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook”, and has stood the test of time becoming one of the most sought after cookbooks by chefs and cooking enthusiasts of the whole world.

According to the author, the idea for the book was born out of a need to form a manual of why certain flavors work together, without industrial-grade research equipment and resources. The book presents 99 flavors divided into 16 categories – like citrus, meat, earth, etc., according to their qualities. The entire list has been organized into what Segnit called a “flavor wheel”, describing the progression through flavor families.

Tomato & Strawberry: These are interchangeable, according to some science-minded chefs, as the two share many flavor compounds. In the mid-1990s, Ron G. Buttery and his team discovered that tomatoes contain something called strawberry furanone, which is also found in raspberry, pineapple, beef, roasted hazelnuts, and popcorn. . Later research discovered that the highest concentrations were found in tomatoes grown on site in midsummer. Try substituting one for the other in your favorite strawberry and tomato dishes. Strawberry, avocado and mozzarella salad is a no-brainer. How about strawberries on your burger or tomatoes on your fruit pies? Wimbledon may never be the same again.

– From ‘The Flavor Thesaurus’.

In the introduction, Segnit talks about her overreliance on cookbooks despite cooking for twenty years, and the sudden doubt as to whether she really learned to cook or was “really adept at following instructions”. This thought, together with the motivation of a dish cooked by a friend with only two ingredients, pushed Segnit towards writing The thesaurus of flavors.

The book not only offers a description of over 4,000 possible ingredient pairings for readers and cooking enthusiasts to experiment with, but also recipes for incorporating the pairings into easy dishes. Segnit’s recipes, however, are not in the format usually found in cookbooks. It leaves the reader with a brief overview and the basics and gives him the opportunity to experiment. “Following recipe directions is like repeating preformed sentences from a phrasebook,” she says.

Chocolate & Cardamom: Like a puppeteer’s black velvet curtain, dark chocolate is the perfect smooth background for cardamom to show its colors. Use cardamom in sufficient quantity and you can experience its enigmatic citrus, eucalyptus notes and its warm, woody floral qualities. I find that adding a sprinkle of ground cardamom can make even the most ordinary dark chocolate taste expensive. This pie is incredibly delicious and very quick to make but requires a few hours in the fridge to set.

Prepare and bake a 9” sweet pastry crust. Split 10 cardamom pods, crush the contents with a mortar and pestle, add to 11⁄4 cup heavy cream in a saucepan and scald. Remove from the heat and add 7 oz of dark chocolate, broken into pieces, and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Stir until melted and well blended. When it has cooled down a bit (do not let it set), pour into the pie shell and place in the refrigerator for two or three hours. When it has hardened, sift a little cocoa powder over it and serve with a small spoonful of fresh cream.

– From ‘The Flavor Thesaurus’.

In addition to shedding light on the usual and unusual flavor pairings meant to spark inspiration, the book also introduces its readers to delicious tidbits of ingredient history. For example, if you were to read how coffee and chocolate go together, you would also find that Mocha coffee beans in Yemen have a chocolatey aftertaste which gave its name to how the combination is popularly known.

If you look at eggs and tomatoes, you’ll recall how Uova al Purgatorio from Naples, Shakshuka from West Asia and Huevos Rancheros from Latin America all operate on similar principles, recalling the underlying connection between cuisines across continents.

Over the years, The thesaurus of flavors received rave reviews and continues to be a crowd favorite in culinary circles. It has also been translated into 14 languages. Anahita Dhondy, a Gurugram-based chef and author, often talks about it on her Instagram page, calling it must-read for cooking enthusiasts. Kainaz Contractor, co-founder and owner of Rustom’s Cafe and Bakery, New Delhi, called it “a great starting point for creating recipes.” “The the book is so unique, every time I open it, I find something new. That’s what I love about it – it’s unexpected,” she said. Goya notebook.

Onion & Orange: Thinly sliced ​​rounds of both can make a nice crisp salad. Look for sweet onion varieties such as Vidalia, Empire, and Supasweet. The higher sugar levels in sweeter onions come at the cost of pyruvic acid, the defensive chemical responsible for the spiciness, aftertaste, and tears on your cutting board. If you can’t get naturally sweet onions, you can try rinsing your cut onions with cold water, which stops some of the more potent sulfur compounds released when you damage their flesh. Blood orange and red onion make a nice pair on the plate, and red onion is often (but not always) on the sweeter, milder side.

– From ‘The Flavor Thesaurus’.

The book was also praised by celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. “Pulling off the trick of being charming and informative is quite rare, I find. I love Niki’s style of writing – filled with knowledge and information, but delivered with such lightness. It’s full of ideas for those who don’t want a prescriptive approach to recipes,” he said.

The book is by no means an exhaustive list of all possible flavor pairings, but aims to give readers a primer to understand why two ingredients may or may not work together. As the author says, it’s all about “getting the juices flowing.”

The thesaurus of flavorsNiki Segnit, Bloomsbury.

Colin L. Johnson