Uncovering The 'Eight Flavors' Of Modern American Culture

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Vanilla, chili, garlic, soy. We'll taste the "Eight Flavors" that writer Sarah Lohman says now define American cuisine and culture.

A illustration of slave Edmond Albius and a vanilla plant from "Eight Flavors." "Vanilla is here thanks to a 12-year-old slave who figured out a botanical secret no one else knew," Lohman writes. (Illustration/Peter Van Hyning)
A illustration of Edmond Albius and a vanilla plant from "Eight Flavors." (Illustration/Peter Van Hyning)

Flavor is a sensation that goes deep, to taste and smell and memory. The flavors that hold and tell the American story go deep, and all over the world. From the black pepper that Yankee sailors brought back from the East to exotic vanilla, to chili and garlic and soy and the Sriracha sauce brewed up in California by a refugee from Vietnam. Historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman finds America in eight defining flavors – and great stories behind each. This hour On Point: the defining flavors of America. — Tom Ashbrook


Sarah Lohman, writer, food historian and blogger. Runs the gastronomy site, Four Pounds Flour. Author of the new book, "Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine." (@FourPoundsFlour)

From Tom's Reading List

NPR: How Just 8 Flavors Have Defined American Cuisine — "She made a list of common flavors from many historical cookbooks, and used Google's Ngram viewer to count how often the various flavors were mentioned in American books from 1796 to 2000. Eight popular and enduring flavors emerged: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG and Sriracha."

The Atlantic: How American Cuisine Became a Melting Pot — "Early on, she establishes her argument that food is much more than nourishment: It’s an intrinsic part of human culture. 'The physiological signals of flavor are interpreted in our brain’s frontal lobe,' she writes, 'the part of the brain where emotional reactions are processed and personality is formed. Personal experience, our memories, and our emotions all inform the experience.' No Thanksgiving dish is an island; each one carries its own weight of memory and emotional connection before we so much as take a single bite."

USA Today: 'Eight Flavors' is a tasty history of American cuisine — "When Sarah Lohman describes herself as a “historic gastronomist,” she is being too modest. She is, in addition, an accomplished writer, an intrepid traveler, dogged researcher and pundit. She knows what Americans eat, what our ancestors ate, and why."

This program aired on December 15, 2016.


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