Nose Dive by Harold McGee [John Murray press]
There are some books about science that really transcend the boundaries – appealing not only to those already immersed in the subject, but to the wider public – and Harold McGee has written a book that wonderfully links the worlds of smell and taste, which the Sunday Times named their 2020 Food Book of the Year, calling it ‘A joyously nerdy study of how and what we smell, the effect on our appetites and much more.’
Having worked with some of world’s most innovative chefs, including Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal; McGee has dedicated over a decade of his life to our most overlooked sense, and here gives us not only the facts about the chemistry of food, cooking and smells; but widens this (and encourages us to widen our nostrils) by explaining the science of everyday life and the various whiffs we may encounter along the way. Something we especially loved was how clearly this information is laid out – so it can be easily referred to. Each smell mentioned is laid out in a chart of its name/species, the component smells to identify it with, and the molecules that create those smells. Gleefully, some have a column respresenting ‘Also found in’, so we learn, for example, that Some Smells of Cat Urine are like blackcurrant, which is caused by methylbutyl sulfanyl formate, and can also be found in beer and coffee. More fragrantly, many flower varieties are described, along with plant pongs, animals, humans, food (raw, cooked or cured) and the scent of space itself.
Think of this as a manual to re-connect you to your nose, heightening your enjoyment and understanding of food but, much more than that – enriching every single part of your life. In Nose Dive, McGee introduces us to the aroma chemicals that surround us, which make up our entire world and colour the way we experience it. It’s a joyous book that should be read by cooks, perfumers, fragrance-addicts and absolutely anyone who has been struck by a smell, wondered what it was and wanted to know more…
Available from Waterstones