The Visual Food Lover’s Guide: Includes essential information on how to buy, prepare and store over 1,000 types of food
by QA International
Publisher: Wiley, Country: US
ISBN: 9780470505595, Year: 2009
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Review

The Visual Food Lover’s Guide is a handy, compact volume containing an impressive range of information about common and exotic ingredients, describing everything from mundane vegetables to uncommon herbs (purslane, borage), cuts of meat (including venison), numerous fish, dairy and soy products and more. In addition, there are some helpful photographs (though very small) of certain methods of preparation. Every entry is accompanied by a colour sketch of the ingredient and most foods have a nutritional table as well. There are a few helpful charts of types of fats and cheeses, and the information on preparation and storage of foods is generally good.

Less usefully, the book is primarily for the US market, although there are metric values included. Terminology is USAmerican and alternative terms aren’t reliably provided (e.g. zucchini = courgette, but no mention of eggplant = aubergine). The introduction for each ingredient feels a little try-hard scientific/biological, with frequent but patchy mention of biological origins of ingredients (the quince originated in Iran; asparagus is orginally from the eastern Mediterranean) and attempts to provide scientific information that are often superfluous (the fermenting agent for tempeh; allyl sulfate is what causes your eyes to sting when chopping onions).

It is difficult to navigate through the book to find an entry on your ingredient of interest. Each major section is broken down into subsections, and within these the ingredients are not in alphabetical order for some mystifying reason. So, Vegetables is subdivided into Bulb Vegetables, Root Vegetables, Fruit Vegetables, Leaf Vegetables, etc. And Fruit Vegetables contains (in this order) eggplant, avocado, bell pepper, olive, cucumber. Not exactly handy for finding things quickly.

It is worth noting that although this book appeared new in late 2009, the content has been seen elsewhere a number of times in English and French. The direct original of this compact version was published in 1996 in French in Québec as “Dictionnaire encyclopédique des aliments”, and a large format English version appeared in that year from publishers Macmillan called “The Visual Food Encyclopedia”. The large volume contains more pictures, tables and some recipes, and although still having some of the flaws mentioned above, the unabridged descriptions make the discussion of origins fuller and more relevant to an encylopedic volume.

This is an enjoyable book for people who already know a bit about ingredients and want a quick-ish reference close to hand, but there are other less comprehensive but better organised reference books out there. For beginners, this would only be suitable for US readers, with some reservations.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3 stars. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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