Book Review: The Secret History of Food, by Matt Siegel

I love history, I love food, I love the food in history (and as a reader of this blog you’re probably aware of – and share – this passion) — so naturally this book held a great appeal.

What to Expect

Expect 10 chapters in rough chronological order about certain less well-known episodes or aspects of food in history. From ‘swallowing’ (covering ante-natal sense of taste and impact of food during breastfeeding to culinary effect of cooking on the evolution of our jaws and skulls), through the history of vanilla (why one of the most expensive spices ever is the modern euphemism for boring), to chilli peppers and tomatoes (why humans are weird, and often silly).

Half the book are end-notes and footnotes, the former showing the extensive research Siegel has done, the latter providing (highly entertaining) cutting-room extra anecdotes and snarky commentary.

What I liked

I enjoyed the odd-ball curios and trivia that the book is packed with, and the light tone, side-commentary and extensive breadth of subjects. This is a book to make you think about the food you consume and what you ‘know’ about it, more than it is about teaching you cultural culinary history.

What to be aware of

This isn’t a history textbook on food – if you’d like a more formal take on that, I’d suggest Ken Albala’s courses and books. Rather, this is a book about our species relationship to food throughout history. It covers thought-provoking topics like the paradox of choice, and plenty vs deprivation.

Though I did notice one error (re the etymology of Sabbath), the book is otherwise well researched. So much so, that’s the second half is just reference notes. This makes it a quicker read than you might expect from the page count.


I’d recommend this book if you love food throughout history (and all permutations of those two words).

Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.

Come meet Felix and his world on the free short stories and novels!

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