Published 18 December 2020
by Lisa Markwell
For the first of three new food book round-ups, Lisa Markwell studies the books that study food and the way we eat. The nerd section, if you like…
A highly unusual book this week – not a book about food or drink, in the traditional sense – however it is essential reading for anyone who creates or consumes them. Harold McGee studies and writes about the science of cooking but for this (enormous) book has focused on aromas of everything from soil to Swiss cheese and it is utterly fascinating. A true expert sharing his tireless research and knowledge and be warned, The section on the smells of cooked food would make nerds out of any of us…
£35, John Murray
Tim Spector is a scientist deeply immersed in gut health, genetics and more (he’s been involved with COVID treatment research) but if you caught him judging on Great British Menu recently, you’ll know that he loves food and cares passionately about what we eat. This pacey book tackles plenty of food headlines in each pithy chapter and busts myths along the way – from fast food and salt to coffee, veganism and allergies to fat. It’s part of a ‘nutrition revolution’ and well worth reading.
This completely mind-boggling book by first-time author, biologist Merlin Sheldrake, dives into the almost uncharted world of funghi. We may think we know about them but more than 90 per cent of funghi species are undocumented. Of course, edible mushrooms and truffles are endlessly fascinating to chefs but there is so much more to learn about these and the rest of organisms that have no brain but can change animal behaviour and solve problems. There’s almost 100 pages of footnotes and index entries – you’ll need to put some time aside for this one.
£20, The Bodley Head
This year has seen many of us getting into fermenting, pickling and preserving in earnest (not least to preserve our own sanity). If that’s your thing, you will want this book in your armoury – it delivers very detailed information and guidance. Koji is what makes much of the cuisines from across Asia so umami-rich and complex, from its use in meat dishes to vinegars, baking and in alcohol. The co-authors are American so measurements are in cups, and so on, but koji geeks will work around that with enthusiasm.
£27.99, Chelsea Green
Another US book, hence the spelling of flavour (hurrumph!) but there’s so much to love about this new book from Sharma, author of Season and the man behind A Brown Table. His equation is that emotion, sight, sound, mouthfeel, aroma and taste equals flavour – I really took to his explanations and although there are other titles that break down how and why certain combinations work, this marries the theory with the practice of more than 100 recipes. A very appealing book that I’d classify as geek-lite (US spelling!)
£26, Chronicle Books
If Nik Sharma’s book is about flavour on the plate, this is pretty much the opposite, but it’s also very accessible. There are no recipes, just an encyclopedic examination by the Foodpairing team (it’s a food tech brand founded in 2009 that works with top chefs). Packed with diagrams and charts, it takes a detailed look at everything from langoustines to sesame seeds to bananas (via sauvignon and cardamom) with its origins, profile and potential pairings. Pineapple and salmon or banana and cheese, anyone?
£30, Mitchell Beazley