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Acquired Tastes: On the Trail of the World’s Most Sought-After Delicacies

by Massimo Marcone

Not many Canadians get compared to Indiana Jones, but then again, few would travel the jungles of the Amazon in search of an indigenous drink known for its unique process of fermentation, in which the beverage’s key ingredients of corn and cassava are chewed before brewing. This is all in a day’s work for Massimo Marcone.

Marcone is the University of Guelph food scientist who did the first study on the now infamous Kopi Luwak coffee beans, which are gathered from the feces of the Indonesian palm civet. He is the expert that documentarians and food regulators routinely call upon to explicate the real story behind foods that sound too impossible to be true.

Marcone has a penchant for investigating foods that would never pass Canadian health and safety regulations. In France and Germany, he seeks out cheese that is dependent upon hungry mites to round out its taste, and in China, he finds a tea made from the droppings of moth larvae that have digested the tea leaves.

Unfortunately, this follow-up to In Bad Taste: A Quest for the World’s Most Exotic Foods, begins badly. The first chapter is a repetitive and uninspiring slog in which the author attempts to define what makes a particular food a delicacy. A better book emerges once he embarks on his travels to discover more about the processes behind the harvesting of foods such as truffles and saffron.  

Marcone writes in the style of a guy telling his mates a story in the pub. Although he conveys admirable enthusiasm, he sometimes gets more exuberant than his subject seems to warrant. Then again, it’s hard not to have a strong reaction to tea made from moth larvae droppings.