Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 5 stars
Sarah Lohmnan, a historical gastronomist, traces America's culinary history through the influence of 8 flavors: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and sriracha. It's a fascinating look at how American cuisine has evolved over time and includes recipes long forgotten and out of fashion to illustrate just how much our culinary sensibilities have changed over the centuries. What really makes this book go from an interesting history to an insightful and impactful cultural examination is Lohman's use of personal anecdotes connecting her to the ingredients and stories of the people who influenced the introduction of these ingredients. When I liberally sprinkle black pepper on my dinner, I now find myself thinking of the merchant who traveled the globe in pursuit of black pepper to bring back to New England. When I balk about the price of real vanilla extract next time, I can connect its accessibility to the clever young slave who figured out how to artificially pollinate vanilla orchids. This is an incredible book that not only provides further insight into how ingredients we take for granted got here; it also gives us some great dinner party talking points. Highly recommend!