Nature has published a fascinating paper that solves a seemingly silly but very interesting question: why do Western and Asian foods taste so different? After analyzing 56,498 recipes the answer is in the way they pair 381 ingredients.
According to the study, Western cuisines have a tendency to pair ingredients that share many of the same flavor compounds. East Asian cuisines, however, do precisely the contrary, avoiding ingredients that share the same flavor compounds. The more flavors two ingredients share, the less likely they would be paired together in Asian kitchens.
This is the first time that a experimental study has confirmed what only was an hypothesis over the past decade:
This food pairing hypothesis has been used to search for novel ingredient combinations and has prompted, for example, some contemporary restaurants to combine white chocolate and caviar, as they share trimethylamine and other flavor compounds, or chocolate and blue cheese that share at least 73 flavor compounds.
However, since Asian food works by avoiding food pairs, their analysis also destroys the idea that flavor pairing is the only way to achieve amazing new plates. According to the study, this "discovery of patterns that may transcend specific dishes or ingredients" may open new ways to cook.
This graphic shows the backbone of the flavor network: "each node denotes an ingredient, the node color indicates food category, and node size reflects the ingredient prevalence in recipes. Two ingredients are connected if they share a significant number of flavor compounds, link thickness representing the number of shared compounds between the two ingredients."
I can't wait to taste how cooks all over the world use this research to create new weird flavors for me enjoy. [Nature]