By Bill Daley
Chicago Tribune

“The New Food Lover’s Companion” newest edition means no one need wonder long about what an aamsul is: a dark purple kiwi-size fruit native to western India with a “somewhat fruity” flavor and a “sour, astringent character.” (The sun-dried fruit is used as a substitute for tamarind.)

Aamsul is a new word in the “Companion,” and it kicks off some 7,000 A-to-Z entries that end with a return appearance of zwieback, the dry digestive bread whose name is German for “twice baked.”
With 500 new listings for many international foods, notably Korean, Persian and South American, this fifth edition of the “Companion” is more global then past volumes.

And, with a beefed up section on food labels and more nutrition facts, the 918-page softbound book is also more health-oriented.

“In the United States in particular, we are allowing other cultures to influence what we do,” says author Ron Herbst, of Petaluma, Calif.

The “Companion” is often seen as an indispensable source for professionals looking for the definition of an unusual food item or unfamiliar cooking technique, the official spelling of a particular ingredient or how to pronounce the word.

Amateur foodies can use the book in the same way — it’s a great resource for settling bets or deftly answering those whatchamacallit questions that arise.

But the “Companion” goes beyond that, offering conversion tables for temperatures and measurements, meat charts, a pasta glossary, a list of food additives and even blood alcohol guidelines for men and women.

“It’s a constant battle to keep up,” says Herbst of revising the “Companion.”

He keeps an eye out for trends, such as the growing interest in Korean cuisine, or items chefs are talking about, like finger lime seeds from Australia.

“I tend to run in tangents. I’ll find some cheeses not in the book and add them, then I’ll get on an olive kick.”