Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

 P comme Parfums/savours, watercolor, 9" x 11"

 Everyone wants to know where to eat in Paris, the best places, bla bla bla. But what's the point if your tastebuds aren't up to it?
Getting a reservation at Frenchies can be difficult. But will you appreciate the multi-layering of flavors when you get there? This dish is composed of caille + betterave + navet + groseille.

 This weekend surfing through Amazon.fr I discovered a book with the answers and guidence to educate your palate and open your mind. The Flavor Thesaurus by British Niki Segnit.

 Subtitled: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook (really this is an eye-opener for anyone who adores food). Out for 2 years in the UK, it's just been published in France with rave reviews.

 A completely different kind of food combining, Segnit explains with wit and science why combinations of flavors work/play well together. Segnit takes 99 basic flavours (mint, coriander, basil, strawberry etc) and researches 980 pairings of them. Part recipe-book, part food memoir, part flavour compendium.
Much like mixing watercolors or layering paint, flavors compliment and enhance one another or do the opposite.

 Roasted flavors like chocolate get a big segment in the books. Naturally with the Paris Salon du Chocolat opening next week I was enticed. Chocolate is gets along well with many other flavors. To quote Segnit:
The untreated cocoa beans are astringent and bitter but fermentation gives rise to fruity, wine-like or sherry flavors, and the roasting process can introduce a nearly infinite variety of nutty, earthy, woody, flowery and spicy notes.
The flavor of good-quality chocolate is best appreciated by pushing a piece to the roof of your mouth and letting it melt. The more sweetened the chocolate, the quicker it will reveal its flavor.
As you work your way up the cocoa percentages you’ll notice that it takes longer for the flavor to develop, and that there’s an increase in bitterness and length—the time the flavor lingers in your mouth.
When you get to 99 or 100% cocoa content, you may also note that the experience is like running your tongue along the main London–Edinburgh railway. 
The great fun of this book is Segnit's endlessly witty metaphors.
On chocolate and hazelnut:
We have the scarcity of cocoa in late-nineteenth-century Piedmont to thank for the popularity of this heavenly combination. The bulking out of chocolate with ground hazelnuts led (eventually) to the invention of Nutella, although it was originally sold as a solid loaf and called pasta gianduja.
In 1951 a technique was developed to soften the mixture, and the product was renamed Supercrema Gianduja and sold by the jar. Finally, in 1964, its name was changed to the more internationally pronounceable Nutella, and today it outsells peanut butter worldwide.
If you find Nutella too sweet, you might like to get your gianduja fix from a Ferrero Rocher or from Baci—or, if you prefer something a little more unusual, try Valrhona’s Caraibe Noisettes or Amedei’s milk chocolate with Piedmont hazelnuts.
Recipes are embedded among the flavor combinations for any home cook can play with.
The absolute master of flavor combinations in macarons has to be Pierre Herme.
I am at times hesitant to taste some of Herme's flavors, but when I take the plunge I'm happily surprised.
carrote + orange + canelle de Ceylon = Metisse
peche + abricot +safran = Eden
figue + foie gras = Eglantine
Rose + litchi + framboise = Ispahan
Chocolate au lait + fruit de al passion = Mogador
Orange+Campari+pamplemousse confit+Americano Pamplemousse
Chocolat au lait + noix du coco = Mutine
Pistache + compote de framboise = Montebello
Vanilles de Tahiti + du Mexique +Madagascar+Infiniment Vanille
Try em! You'll like em plentitude.
Segnit's book is divided up thusly. It makes wonderful fun reading and will open your senses. You'll certainly be ready for anything Paris throws at you. I'm taking along the Kindle version for the chocolate salon.


  1. OMG. now you've really got me salivating ! chocolate & macarons in all those tempting flavours, I'm trying to lose a few lbs, after all my summer celebrating. Love the sketchs, Great post.

  2. Love these:) That's what your book could be.. A pour.. then your work..B pour:)..and so on and so on..I am sure it would become..un coup de ♥
    One of my fave libraries bookstores here..Renaud -Bray.. have books w/ a special sticker..that says exactly that.
    Yours would be one.


  3. Her book sounds so interesting that I ordered it before even finishing your post. However, I'm betting it doesn't hold a candle to your VISUAL thesaurus! Glorious!

    1. This book so has your name on it.
      If you don't love it I'll buy it from you : )

  4. What a fascinating book. Thank you so much for the introduction. I didn't know it:)

    It's full of interesting facts. Amazing. So are your drawings. Delicious.

    I understand that Herme is a more sophisticated brand for Macarons but Lauderée have the marketing edge. Did you know they openend in Sydney?

    Personally I'm a purist when it comes to food and prefer 90%-100% chocolate and nor mixture of flavours... but can appreciate it when it's great!

    Lovely post xx

    1. READ THIS BOOK Tina and you'll discover it isn't about being a purist at all, but the intrinsic flavors of each individual element. Some foods can enhance others in ways you wouldn't expect.

  5. Love the 2 drawings & the giant macarons. What IS that giant chocolate thing??

    1. That's a chocolate version of a cocoa bean. Not so well known on this side of the drink.

    2. At first glance, I thought it was a football.

    3. At first glance, I thought it was a football.

  6. I love your watercolors!
    And the pictures of the chocolates - just what I want right now!
    You did your homework on this one - very interesting book...

  7. Hello Carol. I love what you did with les macarons at the end of the post. Ah, to be an artist, or just to be able to draw. What a treat that would be (I never quite graduated from stick figures...) Just posted a story you may enjoy. If I am not mistaken, there might even be a couple of macarons hidden here and there in the middle of the story :-) A bientôt. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    1. Anyone with good eyes and reasonable eye-hand coordination can learn to draw. Draw something , starting with a simple object such as a mug. Draw something every day and you will amaze yourself after 4 weeks. Try it. I''ve seen it with my own mother at age 60.

  8. Alison artiste9:06 PM

    And I really mean it!

  9. I found that book by total accident at the bookstore months ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Not only the flavor pairings are interesting and thought-provoking, the anecdotes peppered through the book make it a wonderful read. Also, the recipes enclosed are worth a try!

    1. Exactly!
      It's such a discovery both gustatory and brain food.

  10. Can you make your Macaron Equations poster size? I want to wallpaper my salon with that -- it's gorgeous.

  11. Love your paintings. Especially the first one.
    That package of Macaron's is making me hungry.. They look sooooooooo good.

  12. Beautifully presented as ever, Carol. I got this book for Xmas last year and LOVE it. Like you, I adore Niki's comments and gems in there! Bon voyage and enjoy the Salon du Chocolat.

    1. Ah ha!
      No wonder you come up with amazing macaron combos with a little help from Niki..
      Perfect for you too :)

  13. Last Saturday I introduced my granddaughters to pumpkin flavored macarons. They were a big hit. Of course pronouncing it was an added delight. It became the word of the weekend

  14. Thanks so much for your comment, and piece on the blog – which is lovely, btw. I particularly like the watercolour of the gargantuan macaroons.
    With best wishes


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