‘The Flavor Equation’ by Nik Sharma sums up taste with style and science

CLEVELAND, Ohio — What do you know about umami synergism? The Malliard reaction? How about the dhungar method? Nik Sharma’s “The Flavor Equation” expertly explains all these…..and much much much more. Journalism 101 says never write in absolutes. But I’m willing to bet my non-existent ranch that there’s not another cookbook in the last five years that comes close to containing the vast amount of knowledge on the science and practice of enhancing the flavor of everything we cook.

Just check out the end papers of the book. There’s more information in these two flow charts (the complete guide to making nut and seed butters/how to develop flavor in unsweetened coconut) than there is in many entire cookbooks. And inside there are Venn diagrams, pie charts, bar graphs, and other tricks of his former science trade that help make his considerable and well-considered ideas easy to digest. They’re all there to help make Sharma’s point that, for him, flavor is a great big group hug. It encompasses the usual elements of taste — sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami — and adds sight, scent, texture, sound, and even emotion to make up the entire experience of a dish.

Sharma leans partly on his past as a molecular biologist, partly on the food culture of his native Mumbai, India, and quite a bit on his seemingly insatiable culinary curiosity for this big luxe book, the follow-up to his first, the award-winning “Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food” and his equally celebrated food blog, A Brown Table.

The complete title of this tome is “The Flavor Equation The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes”. Whether the recipes are all essential is arguable. I’m not so sure I’ll be turning out Peppermint Marshmallows, Pomegranate and Poppy Seed Wings, and “Pizza” Toast on a regular rotation. But that’s not to say that the book is short on wildly creative irresistible food.

The siren song of his Warm Kale, White Bean + Mushroom Salad with Chilli Tahini, Coffee-Spiced Steak with Burnt Kacumber Salad, Gingerbread Cake with Date Syrup Bourbon Sauce, and Polenta Kheer, among many others, will not be denied. Then there’s Sharma’s signature photographs. Shimmering dishes of saturated color emerging from quietly dark backgrounds and almost hallucinogenic close-ups of ingredients and elements that make us reconsider exactly what we’re looking at add a glamorous sheen and extra intrigue to the look of the book.

As the holiday season falls on us with a sequestering thud this year, “The Flavor Equation” may be the perfect gift to lift the spirits of some dedicated cooks in your life. There’s a full winter’s worth of valuable knowledge for science-minded culinarians to absorb, and a great many inspiring recipes for generalists to mull over as the snow drifts, all in anticipation of what will hopefully be a spring of gathering together again.

The Flavor Equation The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes

Nik Sharma Chronicle Books $35.00 2020


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