Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine

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 i...

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Title:Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine
Author:Sarah Lohman
Rating:
ISBN:1476753954
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:288 pages

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine Reviews

  • Patty
    Jul 27, 2016

    A nonfiction book about the history of American cooking. Lohman organizes the book around eight popular flavors, arranged chronologically as to their appearance in mainstream American food: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and sriracha. Each has a chapter dedicated to it, which Lohman fills with stories of the people involved in the invention or popularizing of a flavor, such as Edmond Albius, a young slave on Madagascar who discovered how to artificiall

    A nonfiction book about the history of American cooking. Lohman organizes the book around eight popular flavors, arranged chronologically as to their appearance in mainstream American food: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and sriracha. Each has a chapter dedicated to it, which Lohman fills with stories of the people involved in the invention or popularizing of a flavor, such as Edmond Albius, a young slave on Madagascar who discovered how to artificially pollinate vanilla, allowing it to be farmed; Ranji Smile, a celebrity chef in the late 1800s/early 1900s who promoted Indian food; William Gebhardt, a German immigrant to Texas who was the first to sell commercial chili powder; and others. Some of the stories here are probably ones you've heard before if you read a lot of food writing (the Chili Queens of San Antonio, "Chinese restaurant syndrome" being not a real thing), but others were completely new, at least to me: I knew very little about soy sauce, and had absolutely no idea that sriracha was invented in California (did other people know that? I totally thought it was made by a Thai company!).

    I was surprised at first by her inclusion of MSG, which feels to me to be much less common in the US than in other countries; when I was in India, for example, I saw a lot of kitchens with a bottle of MSG like a shaker of salt, and I have never seen that in an American kitchen. But Lohman's historical research showed that once happened in the US too, which was cool to learn. My favorite part might have been the final chapter, "The Ninth Flavor", where Lohman attempted to guess the next big trend in American food. Her suggestions all seemed reasonable to me, and predicting the future is always a fun game.

    Lohman also includes recipes, some by current chefs and some adapted from historical cookbooks. I haven't had a chance to test any of them, but I was particularly attracted by Black Pepper Brown Sugar Cookies (based on a recipe from Martha Washington), Country Captain Chicken (an American "curry" popular in the 1800s), and Garlic Soup (a French recipe that became popular with the "Lost Generation" expats). The writing was unobtrusive and included lots of personal anecdotes in between the research and recipes. Overall a fun book with lots of interesting information.

    I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

  • Kristine
    Nov 14, 2016

    Very cheerfully not what you'd expect from a food historian, Lohman brings modern cooking, some history, a smattering of science, and gleeful, welcome, excited scatterbrainedness to each of 8 flavors' 40-45 page chapters. A lot like if Bill Nye and Andrew Zimmern held up their hands in a high five of partnership and started jotting down cookbook ideas with their other hands.

  • Navidad Thelamour
    Oct 04, 2016

    Sarah Lohman’s

    offers an eclectic and thought-provoking survey into American culinary culture and palettes. She traces our culinary roots and, through professional and personal experience, as well as meticulous research, offers up the history of eight spices that can be found in modern American kitchens today. But where did these spices come from, and how did they become so commonly used in our culture? These are the questions that Lohman probe

    Sarah Lohman’s

    offers an eclectic and thought-provoking survey into American culinary culture and palettes. She traces our culinary roots and, through professional and personal experience, as well as meticulous research, offers up the history of eight spices that can be found in modern American kitchens today. But where did these spices come from, and how did they become so commonly used in our culture? These are the questions that Lohman probes and explores, pointing out their place in our contemporary palettes as she goes.

    Lohman diversifies the research she offers up with anecdotes of her own history with food—including the summers that she worked in an outdoor historical museum, making historically accurate dishes for audiences. With that, there’s something for everyone here in this survey on the American palette. Included within this book are also a slew of recipes so that readers can step back into history themselves, making this read as interactive as it is entertaining and informative. From historical unearthments to 200-year-old recipes heaped in historic truth, Lohman’s

    is a read for true foodies and novice culinary explorers alike. 4 stars ****

    *I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

    *For more reviews, go to The Navi Review at

    , and follow the blog on Twitter @thenavireview

  • Sarah
    Nov 04, 2016

    4.5 stars

    In Eight Flavors, Sarah Lohman examines the 8 flavors that she feels have shaped American cuisine. Each chapter examines a different flavor from a historical, scientific and in-use angle. The flavors are arranged in order from how they were introduced to the United States: Black Pepper, Vanilla, Chili Powder, Curry Powder, Soy Sauce, Garlic, Monosodium Glutamate, and Sriracha.

    The historical aspects are very well researched, and in some points get into a little too much detail. (For exa

    4.5 stars

    In Eight Flavors, Sarah Lohman examines the 8 flavors that she feels have shaped American cuisine. Each chapter examines a different flavor from a historical, scientific and in-use angle. The flavors are arranged in order from how they were introduced to the United States: Black Pepper, Vanilla, Chili Powder, Curry Powder, Soy Sauce, Garlic, Monosodium Glutamate, and Sriracha.

    The historical aspects are very well researched, and in some points get into a little too much detail. (For example, there was a whole Texas history lesson in the middle of the chili powder chapter that I found myself skimming over.) The history of how each of these flavors came to be in the United States serves to show the impact of the immigrant population on what we now consider 'American' cuisine.

    The author demonstrated that a great deal of science goes into the creation and use of each of these flavors. Science was well represented in this book. For example, the author challenged the notion that MSG is unsafe, and used science to back it up. The chapters on soy sauce, MSG and Sriracha were particularly rich in the detail and explanation of the manufacturing process.

    Each chapter includes roughly 2-3 recipes, of the time period of introduction to the United States.

    I highly recommend this book and will be interested to see the discussions that it generates upon its release.

    I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book via NetGalley.

  • Annie M
    Dec 24, 2016

    I received this book from a Goodreads Giveaway.

    I loved this book. As a public historian, the concept appealed to me immediately. Inspired by her own experiences with historical cooking, Sarah Lohman set out to map American tastes. She started by analyzing three centuries of cookbooks to identify flavor trends. With her eight flavors identified, Lohman dedicates a chapter to each, exploring its social history, science, and uses. Her writing combines excellent research and personal anecdotes with

    I received this book from a Goodreads Giveaway.

    I loved this book. As a public historian, the concept appealed to me immediately. Inspired by her own experiences with historical cooking, Sarah Lohman set out to map American tastes. She started by analyzing three centuries of cookbooks to identify flavor trends. With her eight flavors identified, Lohman dedicates a chapter to each, exploring its social history, science, and uses. Her writing combines excellent research and personal anecdotes with a casual wit that makes

    a delight to read. Oh, and there are recipes!

  • Whitney
    Jan 26, 2017

    I found the history of the foods mentioned in this book interesting, but what I loved was the cultural diversity throughout the book. That really is what makes America so great and has been in our DNA since the beginning. When it comes to food, that diversity has given us our own unique American cuisine.

  • Allen Adams
    Jan 08, 2017

    In a lot of circumstances, eight isn’t a particularly high number. But according to a new book, the foundation of American cuisine through the centuries can be explored via just eight flavors.

    That’s the premise of the aptly-named “Eight Flavors” (Simon & Schuster, $26) by historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman. Subtitled “The Untold Story of American Cuisine,” the book purports to take the reader on a culinary journey across this nation’s food history, f

    In a lot of circumstances, eight isn’t a particularly high number. But according to a new book, the foundation of American cuisine through the centuries can be explored via just eight flavors.

    That’s the premise of the aptly-named “Eight Flavors” (Simon & Schuster, $26) by historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman. Subtitled “The Untold Story of American Cuisine,” the book purports to take the reader on a culinary journey across this nation’s food history, from its beginnings all the way to the present day.

    Through chapters exploring each of the eight flavors – black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG and Sriracha – Lohman takes note of the impact each had on the development of American food. She worked her way through cookbooks and recipes – some from as far back as the 1700s – in an effort to determine when these assorted culinary mainstays first made the scene in American cookery.

    And then she asks why.

    We learn how black pepper was once the purview of the wealthy and an incredible valuable commodity that made the fortunes of those who procured and sold it. One of the most fascinating stories in the book is in the vanilla chapter; it’s the tale of a young slave living in Madagascar who stumbled upon a technique for vanilla orchid pollination that is still used today.

    Curry powder leads us to Ranji Smile, a self-styled prince whose work with Indian cuisine made him one of America’s very first celebrity chefs. The story of chili powder introduces us to the Chili Queens of San Antonio, whose food introduced the wider world to the now-ubiquitous chili con carne. The soy sauce chapter has a fascinating story too – one that includes the Asian immigration of the 19th century and the development of soy sauce manufacturing here in the United States.

    Lohman also attends garlic festivals and tours a California Sriracha factory and goes to great lengths to shoot down the now-dubious claim that many people suffer a poor reaction to MSG – all in an effort to get to the bottom of why these particular flavors have become such key components to the way people eat today.

    (It should be noted that Lohman acknowledges that there are actually 10 flavors, but she has removed chocolate and coffee from her list. She asserts – correctly – that plenty of ink has already been spilled exploring the nuances of those two flavors.)

    Along the way, Lohman makes a point of experimenting with some of the recipes that she has uncovered. It’s an opportunity to add a level to the reader’s flavor journey – each chapter offers a handful of interesting recipes that showcase its subject flavor. And while Lohman occasionally throws in a tweak or two of her own, she always stays true to the spirit of the recipe, offering glimpses at some of the stages in America’s culinary evolution.

    As someone without a deep interest in gastronomic history, I’m not necessarily the target audience for this book. Yet I found myself engaged, caught up in this effort to understand some of the reasons why our food today tastes the way it does. Even people who aren’t interested in making food tend to be interested in eating it – and this book offers a thoughtful window onto the American flavor profile, one that features some tastes so ubiquitous that we may never have even considered their origins.

    “Eight Flavors” is the sort of food book that even non-foodies will find fascinating. A lot of that springs from Lohman’s style; while her stories are obviously driven by her quest, her easy prose and obvious passion result in a book that is compelling no matter what your spice rack and pantry might look like.

    Bon appetit.

  • Nick
    Jan 20, 2017

    This is an intriguing work about food and culture, and some of the ways in which one influences the other. The author identified ten food flavors that were central to American food and culture, using some interesting Google tools, and eliminated two as being already written about very heavily: coffee and chocolate.

    The other eight flavors are each examined, with the history both overall and within American culture examined thoroughly. Vanilla, pepper and some of the others were fairly obvious, bu

    This is an intriguing work about food and culture, and some of the ways in which one influences the other. The author identified ten food flavors that were central to American food and culture, using some interesting Google tools, and eliminated two as being already written about very heavily: coffee and chocolate.

    The other eight flavors are each examined, with the history both overall and within American culture examined thoroughly. Vanilla, pepper and some of the others were fairly obvious, but curry powder and Sriracha sauce were unexpected.

    The information about MSG, which has been given a bad rap, was interesting. There are plenty of things in Chinese food that you might be allergic to, but MSG isn't actually one of them for the vast majority of people. "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" is likely an allergic or gastric reaction to something else entirely, as supported by actual tests done years after the original studies. The original experiments that panicked people were badly flawed, and didn't actually study whether MSG was at fault, but instead made the assumption that it was and tried to determine what amount of MSG would trigger symptoms. The result has been the elimination of MSG from some foods, and the consumption of the foods that produce it in your body have continued unabated.

    My only quibble with the book is that in a couple of the chapters, the author wanders off into very strange side stories, such as in the chapter about curry powder. Quite a few pages are written about an early proponent of Indian food in the U.S., but so much of that section was speculative or inconclusive that the pages might have been better used for other things.

  • Ariela
    Feb 12, 2017

    Enjoyed this unique take on history, food and the immigrant story. Not sure the author's thesis that these flavors were any more important than others really holds up, but the stories of each of the flavors were strong enough independently for me not to care that much. Also I rounded up this 3.5 star review because of her extensive citations. Respect from one historian to another.

  • Nita
    Feb 11, 2017

    Loved it! Any book that comes with recipes is a hit for me.