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The Flavour Thesaurus: Witty Words and Creative Combos

Words by
January 12, 2017
“When in the mood to make eggs green
(To clarify just what I mean,
Not 'eco' green, like Prius cars
But coloured green, like men from Mars)
In the metal pan you should
Consider only what tastes good.
Rule out at once the croquet lawn,
The waistcoat of a leprechaun…”

So begins the entry under Basil & Egg in Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus, a compendium of flavour combinations that range from the obvious perfect pair to the charming but unsuspecting duo. The same pages that celebrate favourites like almond & vanilla or blue cheese & pear delve into more bizarre combos like coffee & ginger and tomato & cloves. Segnit went ahead and choose 99 diverse flavours to explore through 16 different categories including the likes of Green & Grassy, Earthy, Spicy, Marine and Creamy Fruity. The result is nothing short of a magical anthology that is quirky but informative, yummy but adventurous, and more than likely to find a prized spot on your bookshelf or bedside table.
Flavour Thesaurus
After analysing the well-worn pages of her own cookbook collection, British-born Segnit found herself wondering, “Had I ever really learned to cook? Or was I just reasonably adept in following instructions?” It was just the inspiration she needed to make her own foray into the world of culinary science, history and human taste to come up with a book that suggests ways to cook, prepare and pair food without the absolute rigidity of following a recipe. Even limiting herself to just 99 flavours, Segnit points out that would mean 4,851 possible combinations. While she admittedly doesn’t detail each and every one, the 300 plus pages are filled with inventive combinations and unusual descriptors.

The result is nothing short of a magical anthology that is quirky but informative, yummy but adventurous, and more than likely to find a prized spot on your bookshelf or bedside table.
Bacon & banana? “Not the least bit sophisticated, but fun,” writes Segnit. In the Green and Grassy category, one will find the likes of saffron, anise, cucumber, dill, parsley, cilantro, avocado, pea, bell pepper and chili. And don’t expect the pairings to be simple or subtle. Under the saffron & anise section, Segnit hints that the delicate saffron is “best unchaperoned” but that if you dig deep and let a single thread of the golden beauty melt on your tongue, notes of liquorice are evident. “You’ll also notice,” she goes on, “that the next time you look in the mirror, that your teeth are the colour of a leering Dickensian villain.”

It’s this playfulness so loosely dispersed in what could have been a monotonous anthology that makes The Flavour Thesaurus such an easy read. Expansive in many ways but limited in others, Segnit acknowledges the infusion her own subjectivity in the book’s introduction. “Other omissions,” she writes, “like zucchini, might strike you as odd: all I can say to the zucchini fan is a) sorry, and b) this book makes no claims to be the last word on the subject.” Perhaps it is impossible to get the last word on something like flavour, but if you’re looking for a good word, try Segnit’s: it is bound to entertain.
Flavour Thesaurus
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (2010)
Author: Niki Segnit
Original language: English
Published in: New York