American cuisine is arguably the most ethnically diverse cuisine of the world, greatly in part to our history as the “melting pot.” As you may recall from our 2020 AgBookClub discussions, we scratched the surface of this topic with The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone. Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine*+ by Sarah Lohman dives deeper into this topic. (Bonus! It’s an editor’s pick on Amazon.)
“Very cool…a breezy American culinary history that you didn’t know you wanted” (Bon Appetit) reveals 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 that makes for a continually changing culinary landscape. But a young historical gastronomist named Sarah Lohman discovered that American food is united by eight flavors: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. In “a unique and surprising view of American history…richly researched, intriguing, and elegantly written” (The Atlantic), Lohman sets out to explore how these influential ingredients made their way to the American table.
She begins in the archives, searching through economic, scientific, political, religious, and culinary records. She pores over cookbooks and manuscripts, dating back to the eighteenth century, through modern standards like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Lohman discovers when each of these eight flavors first appear in American kitchens—then she asks why.
“A fresh, original perspective to American culinary history” (The Christian Science Monitor), Eight Flavors takes you on a journey through the past to tell us something about our present, and our future. We meet John Crowninshield a New England merchant who traveled to Sumatra in the 1790s in search of black pepper. And Edmond Albius, a twelve-year-old slave who lived on an island off the coast of Madagascar, who discovered the technique still used to pollinate vanilla orchids today. Weaving together original research, historical recipes, gorgeous illustrations, and Lohman’s own adventures both in the kitchen and in the field, Eight Flavors is a delicious treat—which “may make you hungry” (Bustle).
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Here’s what you need to do this month:
Get the book. Buy it, borrow it, download and listen to it, read it over your neighbor’s shoulder — we don’t care. But don’t steal the book. 😉
Read the book.
- Week 1: Introduction and Chapters 1 – 2 [pages 1 – 54] (Twitter chat on 3/3)
- Week 2: Chapters 3 – 4 [pages 55 – 118] (Twitter chat on 3/10)
- Week 3: Chapters 5 – 6 [pages 119 – 176] (Twitter chat on 3/17)
- Week 4: Chapter 7 – 8 & Epilogue [pages 177 – 229] (Twitter chat on 3/24)
- Week 5: AgBookClub will be taking a week off! (NO Twitter chat on 3/31)
Join the chat (#AgBookClub) on Wednesdays at 8:00pm Central on Twitter. Learn how to participate in a Twitter chat here. While we hope you can participate in our discussion every week, we know that everyone has busy schedules. We always include general questions following the topic(s) of the book that can be answered by anyone, so please don’t hesitate to jump in the Twitter chat if you didn’t have a chance to read the section we’re discussing. We welcome any and all to join the discussion!