Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

This was not the Sarah Lohman book that first caught my eye. That honor belongs to Endangered Eating: America's Vanishing Foods, which was published in October of last year. But I make extensive use of eReaderIQ to find good prices for Kindle books, and Eight Flavors came up first.

Lohman tells the stories of eight quintessentially American flavors: where they came from, how they get to us, how they became "American" from their widely divergent sources. This is a book my father would have loved, and so, I believe would my sister-in-law, who has in the past given us several similar books.

Eight Flavors is easy and delightful reading. My main complaint is that Lohman is thoroughly immersed in her modern, urban culture, in which heretofore objectionable language is casually used, and worse, historical events cannot be presented without pointing out how oppressive and racist the people were back then. A simple example: In the chapter on garlic, she quotes a 1939 magazine article that remarks on the cultural assimilation of Italian-American baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio with, “He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.” Lohman dubs it "first-class casual racism," even though her chapter clearly explains that garlic, a hallmark of Italian cooking, was still a foreign taste to many Americans. I remember that when we lived just outside of Boston, the train would pass a set of apartments that were popular among people from India; the scent of Indian spices was distinctive and pervasive, even from the train. I'll grant that there's no subtlety in that observation—for all I could tell, the residents might have been Bengali or Pakistani rather than Indian—but there's nothing evil about it.  Noting that one can often tell by sense of smell what food a person has recently eaten is not racist—especially when the flavor is as strong as garlic.

She also reveals her (sometimes understandable) contempt for people who don't recognize that "chemical additives" are sometimes identical to the chemicals present in totally natural products. She acknowledges that the flavors found in nature are much more complex than the primary flavor molecule (e.g. vanilla versus vanillin) but at the same time dismisses the point.

All that aside, it's an enjoyable book. I'll share Lohman's list of delightful flavors to whet your appetite.

  1. black pepper
  2. vanilla
  3. chili powder
  4. curry powder
  5. soy sauce
  6. garlic
  7. monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  8. sriracha
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 15, 2024 at 1:52 pm | Edit
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