A Twist in the Tail

How the Humble Anchovy Flavoured Western Cuisine

July 2024 9781911723417 368pp, 38 b&w illus
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


A Twist in the Tail takes readers on a tantalising voyage through European and American gastronomic history, following the trail of a small but mighty fish: the anchovy. 

Whether in ubiquitous Roman garum, mass-produced British condiments, elaborate French haute cuisine or modern Spanish tapas, anchovies have been enhancing the flavour of many dishes for thousands of years. Yet, depending upon the time and place—and who was eating them—they have also been disdained as worthless little fish, deemed too small, bony and inconsequential for popular or elite consumption. From Western Europe to the USA, Christopher Beckman shows how the evolving and ambiguous position of anchovies provides surprising insights into the relationship between food, class and status throughout history.

Drawing on cookbooks, literature and art, this is the hidden story of the diminutive anchovy, and its outsized role in shaping the West’s cuisine.


‘A must-read for anchovy obsessives.’ — Nigella Lawson

‘A riveting, globe-trotting fish tale that follows the ebb and flow of the anchovy’s influence, and recounts how it has divided and united people around the table for millennia.’ — Katie Parla, food and beverage writer, culinary guide and author of Food of the Italian Islands

‘As someone who was sure he hated anchovies and now is a fan, I can’t imagine a better way to learn the history of my secret culinary weapon. A Twist in the Tail offers much more than I ever imagined. It’s one of those rare books that is a pleasure to read while making you a little smarter in the process.’ — Steve Sando, founder, Rancho Gordo

‘An entertainingly rich exploration of the inter-related culinary histories of Western Europe and the United States through the prism of the anchovy—this is my kind of book! With a distinct and amusing voice, Beckman offers beautiful information and a wider perception of the broader cultures he explores.’ — Graeme Rigby, creator of ‘Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring’

‘Told with remarkable erudition, a fishy tale that twists and turns around much of the Western world. A fun read that combines deep knowledge of anchovies with wit and writerly flair. Un-put-downable, even if you have no interest in food or fish!’ ­— Professor Nayanika Mathur, University of Oxford

‘Beckman takes us on a cultural adventure across the centuries, cleverly using anchovies as a barometer of changing culinary trends—from medieval theories balancing the four humours to the revolution of French sauces and nouvelle cuisine, with plenty of recipes along the way.’ — Professor Kevin Butcher, University of Warwick


Christopher Beckman was born in San Francisco and has a doctorate in Archaeology. Based in Geneva, his research focuses on the links between material culture and subsistence patterns. He has lived in the Middle East and Africa, with a stint in Hollywood producing horror films. This is his first book.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.