A Scientific Approach To Indian Food

The concept of food pairing is something that most of us are familiar with. There are some ingredients that simply taste great when eaten together. Among them are coffee and chocolate, strawberries and cream, pea and mint – you get the idea. Then there are the ingredients that shouldn’t work well together, but for some reason do. These include pineapple and blue cheese, oysters and passion fruit, strawberries and parmesan and chocolate and fried onion – any of those tickle your taste buds?

All of which – as well as making us feel hungry – also begs the question ‘why’? Well, it all comes down to science. Take pineapple and blue cheese as an example; the reason they are a taste-match made-in-heaven is that they both contain the flavour component known as methyl hexanoate. This means that when put together they create a positive food pairing.

This is all fairly straight forward, until researchers turned their attention to whether this theory held true with different cuisines from around the globe. It was noted that food pairing predominantly brought together common flavours from Western Europe and North America, but not those popular in Asian cuisine.

A Scientific Approach To Indian Food

So how does Indian cuisine fare using the theory? A group of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology in Jodhpur have revealed that when it comes to Indian flavours, the opposite is true. The ingredients that work well together in Indian cooking are those that do not share similar flavour components. In fact, it is negative food pairing (rather than positive) that produces the best-matched flavours.

The research team focused their work on recipes from a number of states across the Indian sub-continent, including Bengal, Gujarat, Punjab and the southern states of Goa and Kerala. Using more than 2,500 recipes, containing 194 ingredients (which they placed in to 15 categories) the team set to work. And to make the task even more impressive, some of the recipes contained as many as 40 ingredients apiece.

The result was the surprise discovery that negative food pairings were extremely common in Indian cuisine, something that has been put down to the use of certain spices. For example, the inclusion of cayenne pepper in dishes can have a major influence in the food pairing patterns towards contrasting flavours. Other ingredients that were found to have a similar effect include green bell peppers, coriander, garam masala, tamarind, ginger, ginger-garlic paste, cloves and cinnamon.

Taking this study one step further, the researchers investigated the role of big data in relation to Indian cuisine. This, they claim, opens up a whole new world of flavour combinations driven by algorithms and data mining. This type of technology is something we could see being used to create healthy meal choices, novel signature dishes and dishes tailored to the tastes of an individual in the not-too-distant future.

Of course, many of us would prefer our meals to be created by expert chefs working in world-class restaurants. London’s Fine Indian Restaurants include Veeraswamy and Amaya. At any of these restaurants you are guaranteed that while your meal may be abundant with delicious negative food pairings, it won’t be the product of an algorithm; instead it will be a traditional recipe given a modern twist and made with love by a (human!) chef.

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