Discovering Flavor provides a short introduction to food appreciation. Obviously, there is much more than 99 pages written on this topic in the world – here are some additional resources (linked by chapter) to help with exploring further. Sources used directly in the book are cited on the page. Will this “extras” list make more sense if you read the book? Probably. But then of course I’m saying that, it’s my book.
Tasting Hakarl (with videos)
It’s Not About What You Like . . . It’s About What’s Different
For a fairly detailed look at the world of sensory analysis, check out Barbara Stuckey’s book Taste What You’re Missing – the link here takes you to her website which also includes some exercises and demonstrations.
There are also some amusing early chapters on sensory analysis in Mary Roach’s Gulp.
Food historian Bea Wilson’s 2015 book “First Bite: How We Learn to Eat” deals with the formation of food preferences, and in particular their malleability.
- Specialty Coffee Association of America (scaa.org)
- Sweet Maria’s – Resources and information for home coffee roasters (www.sweetmarias.com)
- Coffee Review (coffeereview.com)
A longer, and informal, discussion of coffee flavor is found on this Burnt Toast podcast form the Food52 website “Let’s Talk Over Coffee”
Of course, not everyone has a hired team of sensory analysts or a framework as specific as the coffee one. Here are some articles of mine that include how food producers (farmers, specialty producers) using sensory analysis in different ways:
- It Tastes Like. . . How Food Producers Describe Flavor
- The Taste of Grass . . . Improving the Flavor of Grassfed Beef
Basic Vocabulary of Flavor
The book Tasty by John McQuaid takes a science-saturated look at how taste works, theory about how it evolved, and so on for those who want a lot of details about the basic vocabulary of flavor.
How do the recognized tastes change? Some examples:
- The arrival of Umami – “A Taste by Any Other Name: Umami Moves West” by Rowan Jacobsen in Art of Eating (article link).
- How Umami Works on the Stuff You Should Know Podcast – the podcast also has a general overview of how taste works (“Taste and How It Works“)
- “The Tastemakers” – Is there a taste called Kokumi? From The Economist
- Is it Time to Make Fat the Sixth Taste? The Salt on National Public Radio
A little more on the basic elements of flavor:
- “When a Food Writer Can’t Taste” Marlena Spieler, New York Times, about the loss of smell.
- “Eating With Our Ears” BBC Food Chain
- “Savor Flavor” how flavor gets created from Gastropod
- “The Illusion of Taste” Nicola Twilley, The New Yorker, on “crossmodal” research into senses – primarily the effects of sound and sight on flavor perception.
On how our attitudes shape our taste perception:
- Why You Like What You Like by Tom Vanderbilt in Smithsonian Magazine – a nice overview (article link)
- A discussion of not only preference, but also disgust on this Gastropod episode “Smoked Pigeon and Other Subnatural Delights“
- Food historian Bea Wilson’s 2015 book “First Bite: How We Learn to Eat” deals with the formation of food preferences.
On changing tastes over time (societal):
- America’s Beer Tastes – an extended interview with Lawrence Miller (Blog Post)
- If you really want to get a sense of how taste preferences change over time, check out the many historic food resources available at http://www.foodtimeline.org/
On changing tastes over time (personal):
- Maybe the best discussion about familiarity and acceptance of unusual taste came in Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything (1997). His book opens with a self-imposed plan of eliminating all traces of being a picky eater before he starts on his new job as food critic at Vogue. This plan requires him to eat at least one food he detests each day for six months – it’s a regimen that turns his opinion around about foods like kimchi, clams, and lard, but fails to change his perspective on Indian desserts. “Eight Indian dinners taught me that not every Indian dessert has the texture and taste of face cream. Far from it. Some have the texture and taste of tennis balls” he reports.
- A blog post by me, from an MFA workshop, that is an introduction to how authors describe flavor that goes through the fundamental components covered in this chapter.
Complex Flavors and Subtle Flavor Differences
Wine Spectator article on creating your own wine aroma kit from common products.
Books I used most successfully when trying to understand wine:
- Richard Betts Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert (2013)
- Kermit Lynch Adventures on the Wine Route (1988)
- Rowan Jacobsen, American Terroir (2010), the wine chapter.
While I don’t have a collection of wine flavor descriptions from Rowan (the guy who helped with the second wine tasting in this chapter), you can see his application of tasting prowess to oysters at www.oysterater.com and apples in his book Apples of Uncommon Character.
Wine writing doesn’t have a monopoly on descriptions of subtle and complex flavors. Edward Behr’s 50 Foods offers a prime example of a writer providing a sommelier-type perspective to a range of foods.
All cookbooks add a little more to our knowledge of flavor pairings by suggesting new combinations that work. Here are some that talk specifically about the frameworks the author is using to invent recipes, and how the home cook can build from them:
- The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them by Justin Warner You can hear an interview about it from the Splendid Table.
- How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
- Ratio by Michael Ruhlman
- The Flavor Bible by Karen and Andrew Dornenburg
- Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Genet
- The Spice Bible by Jane Lawson
- The Splendid Table (blog & radio show) often includes how to adjust basic spice blends to evoke the flavors of different cuisines with whatever you happen to be cooking. Here’s an example of a Global Spice Blend.
- Relae: A Book of Ideas by Christian Puglisi (Not an introductory book by any stretch of anyone’s imagination)
The best way to discover new flavor combinations is to try out new dinner menus. For several years Lawrence and I have hosted a weekly dinner party with a different theme. That level of commitment might not be for you, but check out the compilation of menus we’ve tried for some inspiration: “Year of Menus”
The Artisan Mystique
Insight into product development at larger food companies:
- Sugar, Salt Fat by Michael Moss (with a decided bias that the large food companies are evil, so with that caveat. . . )
- The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker, from the perspective of how the process of flavor development in large food companies connects to health problems in America (see also a link in the next section to an interview with Schatzker about the changing flavors of ‘whole’ ingredients).
- Selling Blue Elephants by Harold Moskowitz and Alex Gofman. Also, Malcolm Gladwell gave his own interpretation of the content of this book in a 2004 TED Talk on happiness and spaghetti sauce.
- Candy Freak by Steve Almond – Not quite artisan candy bar manufacturers, not quite Hershey’s either, this is a tour of regional candy manufacturers.
Artisan food production:
- The Development of a Recipe (and of a Recipe Developer) by Claire Fitts-Georges in Vermont’s Local Banquet
- Delancey by Molly Wizenberg offers insight into scaling up from homemade (pizza in this case) to a professional restaurant. Conveniently enough, her first book was on the homemade side of things: A Homemade Life.
- The Town That Food Saved by Ben Hewitt looks at a cluster of artisan food producers and farmers in Hardwick, Vermont.
For an amusing, and useful, take on homemade food compared to mass produced food, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese chronicles her midlife crisis year of trying to reproduce common foods from scratch. It involves buying goats. It’s very funny.
Local Foods and Flavor Compromises
There are articles, books, magazines dedicated to the agronomy of local foods, politics of local food, recipes for local foods, and writers speaking broadly about local foods tasting “better” or “best.” I like those materials, and in fact here is a link to a recommended list of classic (or semi-classic) books on food politics. However, in this instance we’re focused much more narrowly on the details of ways in which taste might change from local to not-local. Some examples of articles addressing that particular issue:
True Grits by Burkhard Bilger – The author profiles Chef Sean Brock who is interested in low country cooking with traditional ingredients that don’t exist very many places (so for those I guess we can easily say they don’t taste like their nonlocal counterparts). Brock definitely cultivates the “attitude” element of local eating. He also explains these dishes in detail in his own words in his debut cookbook Heritage.
Like Sean Brock, Dan Barber is a chef turned writer. His The Third Plate takes a holistic, systems look at the flavors around us and asking “what would a truly sustainable, local menu be?” – and he pays a whole lot of attention to how the farming practices behind that menu change the flavor of its ingredients. You can hear him talk about flavor on On Being in this episode and about The Third Plate on this early episode of Gastropod.
Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison takes a detailed look at the flavors of different (you guessed it) vegetables, with a focus on locally sourced.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Cooked by Michael Pollan provide a detailed analysis of the evolution of our food system in general, which includes a lot of things beyond how flavors change, so you’ll be very educated by the end.
Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon. What would your daily diet be / taste like if you only ate food from within 100 miles? Like this.
Do ‘Better’ Eggs Taste Better? from the Serious Eats Food Lab – In spite of its title, this article is really asking whether the eggs taste any different.
Are Heirloom Tomatoes Always Worth the Price? from Serious Eats – they really need more accurate article titles. This one is more about what “heirloom” means and the many factors that go into creating a tomato flavor different from the conventional varieties.
Does Local, Seasonal Produce Really Taste Better? from The Guardian Included here largely because it introduces then links through to an academic study of how farmers’ market customers understand the flavor of food from the market. Also, the phrase (describing strawberries) “all fur coat and no knickers.”
“The Dorito Effect” on America’s Test Kitchen – this interview with Mark Schatzker discusses the changing flavor of natural or “whole” ingredients in the national food system. Schatzker writes about this in his book The Dorito Effect.
Next Steps -The Wheres and Whys of Flavor
A primer on terroir: The Taste of Place by Amy Trubek
Maple Syrup and terroir:
- Vermont’s Local Banquet Article on the Terroir of Maple Syrup by Helen Labun Jordan
- Canadian Government’s Maple Syrup Flavor Wheel
Exploring a bit of molecular gastronomy / modernist cuisine at home:
- Herve This’ Chocolate Chantilly and a fun topping from the Amateur Gourmet
- Interview with Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold on America’s Test Kitchen
- Popular Science slide show of Modernist Cuisine lab equipment
- Paste Magazine – 10 Easy Molecular Gastronomy Recipes
- Serious Eats – Have You Tried Modernist Cuisine at Home?
- A Blog Post with Links to Basic Recipes
What happens at a molecular gastronomy restaurant? Here’s one account by Francis Lam “A Restaurant That’s Really This Good”
Also fascinating to watch: “Cooking as Alchemy” Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche video on TED.com
About the bugs. . . here is a commentary on Americans eating bugs, including a recipe for Japanese beetles (I believe legally I need to state don’t try this at home, even if I did) and also links to additional information on bug eating. If you want a closer look at bugs as cuisine and how they might reach new dining audiences, a 2016 documentary called BUGS takes on that question.
My mother would like to point out that the particular lupines she planted in our backyard aren’t good eating. She’s partially correct – lupine seeds are edible and popular in other countries, but you do have to actually cook the seeds and some varieties will taste better than others (hers are not of the variety optimized for flavor). If you go around chomping on random raw lupine seed pods you will be unhappy. They will taste sufficiently bad that you are unlikely to eat enough to do any damage (unless you are a sheep, in which case, the USDA warns, lupine poisoning is possible if grazing too early in the season).
On the topic of me being correct, several years after I mentioned the crawfish of Vermont, we now have a commercial Vermont crawfish – um, not “industry” so much as single boutique business that launched in time for the 2016 summer season.
On the topic of disappearing foods and flavors – with a focus on either preventing disappearance or finding substitutes:
- Slow Food International
- On the disappearance of cod “Counting Fish” by Rowan Jacobsen in Yankee Magazine (as referenced in the chapter) and a shorter piece from Marketplace on substituting dogfish for cod.
- “Ghost Food” from Edible Geography
- Twain’s Feast by Andrew Baehrs details a search for foods that Mark Twain loved and we no longer eat. Here is an article about it, with Twainian menus, on The American Menu
- Bananas. Bananas are perpetually on the brink of collapse and disappearance. Will they disappear? Here is a New Yorker article on attempts to prevent that outcome. “We Have No Bananas” by Mike Peed
- The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization provides a website of reports and resources on the topic of biodiversity and food security.