Sharon Tyler Herbst; influential food writer

From the Associated Press

Sharon Tyler Herbst, a cookbook author whose “The Food Lover’s Companion” became a kitchen staple with its thousands of definitions of edibles from around the world, died Friday of ovarian cancer at her Bodega Bay home, said her husband, Ron Herbst. He declined to disclose her age.

The author wrote 16 books, some with her husband, including “The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide,” “The Joy of Cookies” and “Never Eat More Than You Can Lift.” But it was “The Food Lover’s Companion” that became the foodies’ bible.

When the book came out in 1990, the New York Times pronounced it “as thick and satisfying as a well-stuffed sandwich.” Television chef Emeril Lagasse posed with a copy of the second edition on his American Library Assn.'s “READ” poster.

The third edition has about 6,000 definitions, including amasake, a Japanese fermented drink; verjuice, a liquid made from unripe fruit; and za’atar, a Middle Eastern herb or spice blend.


Herbst was a relatively unknown food and travel journalist when a publisher asked if she knew a culinary scholar who could write a reference guide to food terms. She persuaded editors that she could do the job herself, and she spent three years on it.

It took her a day and a half just to write the entry for bananas, Herbst recalled in a 2003 Associated Press interview. She included pronunciations, because she remembered the embarrassment of mispronouncing a term, and cross-references to make it easier for readers to find what they were looking for.

“Cross-referencing is so important,” she said. “It takes a long time to map out the terms.”

Herbst was born in Chicago and raised in Denver. She attended Colorado State University and met her husband in the late 1960s, when they worked in the restaurant in a Denver hotel. They moved to the coastal hamlet of Bodega Bay, about 60 miles north of San Francisco, in 2003, only months before she was diagnosed with cancer.

Besides her husband, she is survived by her mother, Kay Tyler, and a sister, Tia McCurdy, both of Galveston, Texas.