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"A Natural History of the Senses" - An Intoxicating Feast for the Culinary Soul

Okay, I have been away for a while, but the time away was stupendous. I will catch you up on the trip to Southern Utah shortly, but while on vacation, I read this book and came away in utter jaw-dropping amazement.


As both a passionate cook and avid reader, I just finished devouring Diane Ackerman's sumptuous book A Natural History of the Senses—and I mean that literally. This delectable volume is a true feast for the senses, and it has me looking at food creation with a newly awakened perspective.


For those of us who love to be in the kitchen around the sumptuous smells and sensations, Ackerman's deep exploration of the five senses is utterly thrilling. Her vivid descriptions of smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch have me re-evaluating everything I thought I knew about crafting delicious dishes and developing new recipes.


Take her chapter on olfaction, for instance {I had to look up olfaction}. I had no idea how powerful and primal the sense of smell is in evoking specific emotional resonances and memories. As Ackerman beautifully details, smell is our most underrated sense when it comes to experiencing food. Her poetic yet scientifically grounded words have me rethinking how to blend aromatic herbs and spices most effectively to create multi-sensory taste experiences.


And her section on the sense of taste? Revelatory! I never fully grasped the interplay of taste receptors on the tongue that allow us to perceive the full kaleidoscope of flavors. After reading her luscious and learned words, I have a new appreciation for balancing sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami notes. Note: Samin Nosrat wrote a magnificent book on this subject, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," which I have yet to finish but have removed from the bookshelf, ready to consume with gusto.


But perhaps most entrancing were her insights on sound and texture. Ackerman's lush descriptions of how the crunch of a fresh apple or the sizzle of a steak on the grill can influence our taste experience have me listening to my cooking with new ears. Her poetry about the velvety, creamy, or crispy mouthfeel of various foods has recalibrated my sense of touch when it comes to ideal food textures.


For any chef, cook, or passionate foodie, Diane Ackerman's "A Natural History of the Senses" is simply intoxicating. Her ability to blend science and metaphor has forever changed how I approach crafting multi-sensory taste experiences. This is a book to be savored, melded into your culinary DNA, and relied upon for your entire cooking life.

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