A tasty historical study of flavorful mainstays of American cuisine.
Serving as a culinary archaeologist of sorts, this self-described food historian and blogger raided spice cabinets and pantries across the U.S. to produce this fascinating overview of what she believes to be the eight major flavors of the land: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, garlic, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, and Sriracha (the only questionable inclusion, but Lohman makes a convincing case). In her ambitious attempt to characterize American cuisine, the author found it essential to identify commonalities among the disparate regions and ethnicities that have flourished here. She accomplished this by combing old cookbooks and researching past and present consumption patterns in the U.S. She admits that there are really 10 dominant flavors in the U.S., but “so much” has been written about chocolate and coffee as to warrant their exclusion here. The author’s decision to isolate popular flavors, as opposed to assessing common dishes or particular cooking techniques, allowed her to focus on the history and growth of their influence on the American palate, making this account often as much about the men and women responsible for introducing each flavor. Thus readers will find a treasure trove of spicy trivia, ranging from staggering statistics on the amount of black pepper sold in the U.S. each year—158 million pounds—or how much garlic is consumed—annually, two pounds per person—alongside entrepreneurial tales like that of the Chili Queens of San Antonio, whose namesake dish sold daily on Alamo Plaza inspired German immigrant William Gebhardt to try to emulate it and led to his invention of a dry chili powder patented in 1897. Lohman also tells the moving back story of how the modern cultivation of vanilla derives from a pollination technique developed by Edmond Albius, a slave, and exposes and attempts to debunk how MSG, the defining savory taste of umami isolated by 20th-century biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, came by its bad rap.
A tantalizing look at flavors of the American table that foodies will absolutely devour.