by Bernard Lahousse
on March 24, 2016

The Science behind great ingredient pairings

Have you ever wondered why some ingredients seem to have a natural affinity for one another while others just don't match? This is because ingredients pair well when they share key aromas in common. Believe it or not, but 80% of our flavor experience is actually defined by our sense of smell, which explains why palatable ingredient pairings are ones that form strong aromatic matches.

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The importance of aroma

What most people don't realize is that when we say something tastes good, what this really means is that it smells good. In fact, 80% of our flavor experience is actually determined by our sense of smell, while taste and touch account for only 20% of the overall eating experience. Olfaction or our sense of smell enables us to distinguish up to 10,000 different odorant molecules associated with fragrances and aromas. That's a lot!

Our sensory experience of flavor perception occurs both through the nose (orthonasally) when we inhale aromatic volatile compounds, as well as in the mouth and back of our throats as we exhale (retronasally).

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The difference between aroma and taste

Taste, on the other hand, is easily connected to our flavor experience but should not be confused with flavor. We're capable of detecting five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.

Try pinching your nose as you drink coffee. What happens? Coffee boasts one of the most complex aromatic profiles, containing over 1,000 different aromatic compounds. Yet, if you sip coffee while pinching your nose, you'll notice that suddenly all of those desirable roasted and fruity aromas become imperceptible, reducing it to nothing more than a bitter-tasting beverage.

How do aromatic foodpairings work?

To break down the science of pairings, remember that two (or more) ingredients are complementary when they share key aroma components. Each ingredient in our Foodpairing® database has been analyzed in our lab to determine its specific aromatic profile. These results are then compared to the other 1700+ ingredients we’ve studied to determine best matches.

Step 1: Determining an ingredient's aromatic profile

At Foodpairing® we begin by determining an ingredient's aromatic profile using gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS). A single ingredient such as ginger may contain several dozens of different aroma molecules, though in reality, only the most dominant compounds are actually responsible for its signature scent.

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Step 2: Calculating pairings

From these results, our scientists then isolate the aroma data relevant to our sense of smell. Our team has developed algorithms that calculate the compatibility of different ingredients based on their aromatic profiles. Cherry and asparagus, for example, are a perfect pairing because they both share similar floral and green aromas.

cherry and asparagus foodpairing aroma connections combine in a dish

Step 3: Adding the data & algorithms to the database

Each time you select an ingredient our algorithms calculate possible aromatic matches. Remember that the greater the 'aromatic match,' the more likely it is that different ingredients will combine well in a recipe. Use our tool to find complementary pairings, while you as a chef create the perfect balance between Taste and Texture.

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