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Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine
     

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine

by Sarah Lohman
 

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This unique culinary history of America offers a fascinating look at our past and uses long-forgotten recipes to explain how eight flavors changed how we eat.

The United States boasts a culturally and ethnically diverse population which makes for a continually changing culinary landscape. But a young historical gastronomist named Sarah Lohman discovered that

Overview

This unique culinary history of America offers a fascinating look at our past and uses long-forgotten recipes to explain how eight flavors changed how we eat.

The United States boasts a culturally and ethnically diverse population which makes for a continually changing culinary landscape. But a young historical gastronomist named Sarah Lohman discovered that American food is united by eight flavors: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. In Eight Flavors, Lohman sets out to explore how these influential ingredients made their way to the American table.

She begins in the archives, searching through economic, scientific, political, religious, and culinary records. She pores over cookbooks and manuscripts, dating back to the eighteenth century, through modern standards like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Lohman discovers when each of these eight flavors first appear in American kitchens—then she asks why.

Eight Flavors introduces the explorers, merchants, botanists, farmers, writers, and chefs whose choices came to define the American palate. Lohman takes you on a journey through the past to tell us something about our present, and our future. We meet John Crowninshield a New England merchant who traveled to Sumatra in the 1790s in search of black pepper. And Edmond Albius, a twelve-year-old slave who lived on an island off the coast of Madagascar, who discovered the technique still used to pollinate vanilla orchids today. Weaving together original research, historical recipes, gorgeous illustrations and Lohman’s own adventures both in the kitchen and in the field, Eight Flavors is a delicious treat—ready to be devoured.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Corby Kummer
…[Lohman's] enthusiastic charm and what you sense is genuine Midwestern niceness shine through. She's also impressively plucky, traveling, for example, to a remote Mexican vanilla plantation, where she's subject to a full-body mosquito attack (par for the course, the woman who runs it admits). Lohman's drawings are a bonus: They make you want to learn more about characters like Ranji Smile, a Muslim from Karachi who became a cook at the high-end Sherry's restaurant in New York and then, in the early 1900s, a celebrity chef. Lohman is assiduous in tracking down early recipes and describing cooking techniques.
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/31/2016
Food writer Lohman uses eight key flavors to launch an entertaining tour through the tastes that have made American food the “most complex and diverse cuisine on the planet.” The story of America’s embrace of black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and sriracha demonstrates how travel, immigration, science, and technology continue to influence what Americans eat. From her opening story of John Crowninshield of Massachusetts, who returned to the U.S. from Sumatra with commercial quantities of black pepper in the early 19th century, to her rousing defense of MSG, Lohman’s thoughtful, conversational style and infectious curiosity make the book wholly delightful. As a bonus for enthusiastic amateurs, Lohman includes well-researched historic recipes, such as Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream. This Founding Father was responsible for introducing the noble dairy treat to the country, via the French chef he brought home with him in the 1780s. A more modern but equally heroic tale is that of sriracha, invented in California by an immigrant, David Tran. Tran named his company, Huy Fong Foods, after the refugee ship he and his family fled Vietnam on—a Panamanian freighter called the Huey Fong. Lohman’s book gives fascinating new insight into what we eat. (Dec.)
Booklist
“This delicious history of these now-ubiquitous ingredients will have readers savoring each page and licking their lips for a taste for more.”
Deborah Blum
“In this affectionate and insightful history of America cookery, Sarah Lohman tells a story filled with surprising characters, unexpected history - and the occasional irresistible recipe. Eight Flavors is a flavorful delight, start to finish.”“In this affectionate and insightful history of America cookery, Sarah Lohman tells a story filled with surprising characters, unexpected history - and the occasional irresistible recipe. Eight Flavors is a flavorful delight, start to finish.”
Novella Carpenter
“Eight Flavors is a hunger-inducing culinary voyage through America’s pantries, past and present. Our witty captain, food historian Sarah Lohman, provides us with tasty recipes and unique insight into America’s food landscape, in all its umami-spicy-garlicky-sweet glory.”
J. Kenji-Alt
"Packed with personality and a journalistic resolve to uncover the truth, Sarah Lohman's Eight Flavors takes deep dives into the history of some of the ingredients that define our modern American cuisine—from black pepper to sriracha to the oft-vilified MSG. You'll find yourself saying "wait, really?" at every turn of the page, ultimately coming out the other end with a deeper understanding of why our food tastes the way it does (not to mention helping you win the Food category at trivia night)."
The Atlantic
“A unique and surprising view of American history... richly researched, intriguing, and elegantly written.”
Bon Appetit Magazine Editors
"Very cool...a breezy American culinary history that you didn't know you wanted."
Bustle
"Warning: This book may make you hungry."
BOOKPAGE
"Lohman's delectable book illustrates the deep connections between culture and food, reminding us that the flavors that enhance our foods represent the people who cook it."
Brooklyn Based
"A compulsively readable, surprising and deeply researched culinary history."
The Christian Science Monitor
“In this convivial book, Lohman tells the stories of eight popular flavors....Lohman makes the stories of these flavors fascinating, and by focusing on the influence of immigrants, brings a fresh, original perspective to American culinary history.”
The National Book Review
“In this convivial book, Lohman tells the stories of eight popular flavors....Lohman makes the stories of these flavors fascinating, and by focusing on the influence of immigrants, brings a fresh, original perspective to American culinary history.”
USA Today
"Engaging...[Lohman] writes with passion and insight."
The Financial Times
“It is a nifty idea, cleverly executed and well written — the kind of book that makes the reader annoy her family by constantly exclaiming ‘Gosh! Did you know . . . ?’”
Passport Magazine
"Lively...Lohman will win you over with her detailed exploration of how each ingredient was introduced to the country and how it’s impacted our cooking over time."
Library Journal
10/15/2016
Have you ever wondered about that rooster on your handy bottle of Sriracha, or why vanilla beans are so expensive, (and are they worth it)? This new work by a noted food writer and blogger looks at eight key ingredients or "flavors" that spice up our meals, including black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and Sriracha. Often it is a highly personal tour, as Lohman goes on site investigating the backstory of these key recipe components. This informative work is part natural history and part memoir, with a few recipes thrown in as a bonus. It is also spiked with some seriously useful tidbits; the trick about when to use artificial vanilla could be worth the price alone. Knowing more about these everyday kitchen items can help us become both better cooks and consumers, plus readers will be able to astound friends and family with newfound knowledge of soy sauce brewing. VERDICT A lively compendium of facts and trivia about essential ingredients. Purchase for larger cookery collections.—Susan Hurst, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Kirkus Reviews
2016-10-06
A tasty historical study of flavorful mainstays of American cuisine.Serving as a culinary archaeologist of sorts, this self-described food historian and blogger raided spice cabinets and pantries across the U.S. to produce this fascinating overview of what she believes to be the eight major flavors of the land: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, garlic, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, and Sriracha (the only questionable inclusion, but Lohman makes a convincing case). In her ambitious attempt to characterize American cuisine, the author found it essential to identify commonalities among the disparate regions and ethnicities that have flourished here. She accomplished this by combing old cookbooks and researching past and present consumption patterns in the U.S. She admits that there are really 10 dominant flavors in the U.S., but “so much” has been written about chocolate and coffee as to warrant their exclusion here. The author’s decision to isolate popular flavors, as opposed to assessing common dishes or particular cooking techniques, allowed her to focus on the history and growth of their influence on the American palate, making this account often as much about the men and women responsible for introducing each flavor. Thus readers will find a treasure trove of spicy trivia, ranging from staggering statistics on the amount of black pepper sold in the U.S. each year—158 million pounds—or how much garlic is consumed—annually, two pounds per person—alongside entrepreneurial tales like that of the Chili Queens of San Antonio, whose namesake dish sold daily on Alamo Plaza inspired German immigrant William Gebhardt to try to emulate it and led to his invention of a dry chili powder patented in 1897. Lohman also tells the moving back story of how the modern cultivation of vanilla derives from a pollination technique developed by Edmond Albius, a slave, and exposes and attempts to debunk how MSG, the defining savory taste of umami isolated by 20th-century biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, came by its bad rap. A tantalizing look at flavors of the American table that foodies will absolutely devour.
From the Publisher
"Her enthusiastic charm and what you sense is genuine Midwestern niceness shine through. . . . Lohman is assiduous in tracking down early recipes and describing cooking techniques." —New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781476753959
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
12/06/2016
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
18,993
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Eight Flavors

  • Black pepper

  • Meet the Author

    Sarah Lohman is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, where she began working in a museum at the age of sixteen, cooking historic food over a wood-burning stove. Lohman moved to New York in 2006 to work for New York magazine’s food blog, Grub Street, and now works with museums and galleries around the city to create public programs focused on food. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR, and she has appeared in NYC-TV’s mini-series Appetite City cooking culinary treats from New York’s past. The author of a twice-monthly food feature for Etsy called “Kitchen Histories,” Eight Flavors is her first book.

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