Articles / How Niki Segnit Taught Herself to Be a Flavor Genius

How Niki Segnit Taught Herself to Be a Flavor Genius

Published June 21, 2023

Plus: Saffron water, greens vs. cheeseburgers, and the death of a legend

In his book, The Debt to Pleasure, John Lanchester writes about flavor combinations — lamb and apricots, bacon and eggs, steak frites, strawberries and cream — that “exist together in a relation that is not just complementary but that seems to partake of a higher order of inevitability — a taste which exists in the mind of God.” To “the committed explorer of the senses,” Lanchester continues, “the first experience of any of them will have an impact comparable with an astronomer’s discovery of a new planet.”

This quote serves as part of the intro to The Flavor Thesaurus, which was written by the prolific food writer — and today’s guest on Food with Mark BittmanNiki Segnit, and which came out in 2010 and has since sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In this book, Segnit, a prolific food writer based in London, talks about the deep understanding of the links between flavors and her frustration over not being able to “get” that link. The Flavor Thesaurus was born from that frustration, and now there’s a just-as-fabulous (and plant-based!) sequel, The Flavor Thesaurus: More Flavors.

Enjoy our interview with Niki, and try not to get too hungry. The recipe featured on the episode, Coffee and Maple Syrup (it’s a custard, looks fantastic) is here, and your weekly Marksisms are below.

Follow Food with Mark Bittman on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Amazon Music

This Week’s Marksisms

Ok, folks, a smattering of observations today, to be followed by the Big Coconut Yogurt Reveal tomorrow. Meanwhile.


Our hero Daniel Ellsberg died what sounds like as good a death as you can have, or one variety of same. That day we watched Reality, a powerful little film that’s a true story (the narrative is taken directly from FBI tapes) about a whistleblowing young ex-military woman who just got fed up. I recommend you don’t read much about it until after you see it. Just know that her name is Reality (that is something you can miss) and, although there are actors, the dialogue is real.

The Lunch of Suffering

I don’t know what I think of this. You tell me. But reality check: I was in Palo Alto eating lunch with a stranger a few months ago and he asked if we could split an appetizer (it was a semi-fancy Greek place) and then he’d eat. I agreed, at which he pulled out a huge rectangular clamshell box of mixed greens and proceeded to eat that without dressing or even salt — with his fingers of course. I have to say I saw nothing wrong with it. Better than a cheeseburger on all accounts, except possibly not quite as enjoyable.

Lana, Lana, Lana

The content below was originally paywalled.

OK, so we’re at Father’s Day brunch, there’s a guitarist, he’s playing a song, one of my fellow eaters and I get into a thing: “It’s Radiohead!” she says. “It’s Lana Del Rey,” say I. We get in the car and start Spotifying (why not, you’re allow to make up any word you want now, innit?). Radiohead’s “Creep” (covered honestly and brilliantly, by the way, by the great Macy Gray) is eerily similar to Lana Del Rey’s “Get Free.” Only it’s not eerily similar, it’s pretty clear that old Lana stole the melody. I said, “I bet Thomas Yorke wasn’t happy about this.” I was right. But wait, there’s more: When you get to the Hollies version of the original song … that’s not bad!

Good Pasta Resulted