Flavor Pairing

By: John Cox
FEMA Executive Director

Valentine’s Day brings about the idea of finding the right match. Today we will explore how this idea works not between people, but between food and flavors.

You don’t have to be a flavor chemist to know that some foods go well together and others don’t. A 2015 study, Analysis of Food Pairing in Regional Cuisines of India, looked at why this happens, particularly in India, which is home to many regional cuisines. Food pairing, as described by the study, is the “compatibility of two ingredients in a recipe in terms of their shared flavor compounds.”1

“We quantify food pairing with the help of flavor profiles of ingredients. Flavor profile represents a set of volatile compounds that render the characteristic taste and smell to the ingredient.”

A 2011 study, Flavor Network Pairing and the Principles of Food Pairing, uses white chocolate and caviar, which share trimethylamine and other flavor compounds, as an example of how food pairing is used creatively in restaurants.2

Interestingly, these studies both assert that Western cuisines tend to use ingredient pairs that share a number of flavor compounds while East Asian cuisines typically do not.

We often write about how much of flavor perception has to do with smell. According to The Foodpairing® Company, a creative food-tech agency, “When different foods share key aromas they are more likely to pair well in a recipe.”

This helps explain why foods like strawberries and chocolate, which seem completely different, make a great match because they share similar roasted aromas.

Strawberries tend to be among the most versatile foods when it comes to pairing because they have so many different compounds that influence taste, smell and the overall flavor. Many of these compounds are shared with other foods.

What do you think about food and flavor pairing? What are some unusual pairs that you have found work well? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry. FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry. The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.

1Jain A, N K R, Bagler G (2015) Analysis of Food Pairing in Regional Cuisines of India. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0139539. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139539

2Scientific Reports 1, Article number: 196 (2011) doi:10.1038/srep00196

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