I could say I spent hours combing through Niki Segnit’s latest book, The Flavour Thesaurus: More Flavours, to find this example of how Segnit writes and what the book does so successfully, but I didn’t. It fell open at ‘lychee’, which she describes as ‘nature’s own Turkish Delight’. ‘Peeling a lychee is a rewarding experience in itself,’ she writes. ‘Then you get to put it in your mouth. Like a slippery gobstopper, it reveals its flavour in increments: first all rose, then very much pear – extrovert pear.’ Don’t you want to eat a lychee right now? Can’t you taste it, really taste it, as you read?
Segnit does this all the way through the book. Her knowledge about individual ingredients and flavours, and how they can be paired up, is encyclopedic (sesame oil + buckwheat noodles = whole magic meal). So yes, of course, as its title suggests, The Flavour Thesaurus: More Flavours is a food manual, bursting with descriptions, suggestions, recipes and science.
Put spinach and lemon together, Segnit suggests, and you’ve got DIY sorrel. That kind of thing would be enough. But what elevates the book is Segnit’s sleight of hand: she is sly when it comes to rules, even those she makes herself. She is pin-prick precise on an ingredient