Become a More Inventive Cook With The Flavor Thesaurus

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Photographs: Emily Dryden

At its most basic, a thesaurus is a book of synonyms. When a writer feels a certain word doesn't have enough flair, a thesaurus will offer up alternatives with pizazz. That may prompt some obnoxiously overcomplicated writing, sure, but with careful use, a thesaurus can bring more nuance to your vocabulary.

The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit may likewise be a collection of related flavors, but it's not a guide to substitution at all. Rather, it's a guide to relationships—how one flavor can amplify or underscore another to produce a more satisfying composition.

Take coriander. Segnit explains that its floral, citrusy, and woodsy character comes from a compound called linalool, an ingredient found in imitation blueberry. That underlying chemical similarity makes real blueberries and coriander a powerhouse combo, as I've discovered for myself in both blueberry muffins and blueberry pie.


You'll also learn that the soft, floral aroma of coriander can serve to temper the intensity of garlic, heighten the tart freshness of goat cheese, or amplify the aroma of lemon in sweet and savory recipes alike. From there, you may just bounce on over to the entry on olives and coriander, then find yourself whipping up Segnit's aromatic marinade for green olives.

Don't imagine this thesaurus as a dry reference text; trust me, Segnit is a riot. In one instance, the combination of olives and anchovies are likened to "a couple of shady characters knocking around the port in Nice." That kind of description makes me want to whip up a tray of salty focaccia just to show off the pairing and quote Segnit to my friends.

Another entry begins, "O rose, thou art sickly." Yet from there, Segnit goes on to explain how its musky fragrance can bring balance to bitter ingredients like chocolate, coffee, and citrus; or add dimension to the aroma of an apple (check out my next-level applesauce).

The Flavor Thesaurus is a brilliant refresher for those of us who may have learned these classic flavor pairings in culinary school, but also a delightful crash course for home cooks and bakers still learning the ins and outs of layering flavors in a dish. It's the only book I keep in my kitchen, and one I reference whenever a recipe feels a little flat—leading me to consider a pop of cardamom in a vanilla scented pear galette, for instance.

Even for those who don't have any intention of stepping into the kitchen, thumbing through The Flavor Thesaurus will provide insight into many curious culinary relationships, such as the pairing of avocados and hazelnuts, lamb and anise, cumin and apricot, or banana and clove. In turn, that knowledge can provide a deeper appreciation of the flavor profiles we already love, or inspire us to try something new when dining out.