Flavor Network & the Principles of Food Pairing: Or, Cool Stuff You Can Extrapolate from 56,498 Recipes

Flavor Network
Flavor Network
Screen Capture, Nature Magazine

Have you ever put grape jelly on your steak? How about squid ink on a cheese Danish? No? Why not? Ludo probably does. Though we suspect if he did, it would somehow taste incredible.

For the rest of us, there may actually be scientific reasons we shy away from combining certain foods. According to an article in Nature magazine -- check out the bad-ass diagrams and formulas -- researchers are trying to determine what does and doesn't go together based on the totally-not-fictional food pairing hypothesis.

That hypothesis states that ingredients sharing flavor compounds are more likely to taste well together than ingredients that do not. So our intrepid academics Yong-Yeol Ahn, Sebastian E. Ahnert, James P. Bagrow and Albert-László Barabásiset set out to find out why.

They started with earlier research that identifies food compounds (what makes something taste the way it does) then analyzed 56,498 recipes from Epicurious and Allrecipes.com. Their results ultimately showed:

North American and Western European cuisines exhibit a statistically significant tendency towards recipes whose ingredients share flavor compounds. By contrast, East Asian and Southern European cuisines avoid recipes whose ingredients share flavor compounds.

So some food clashes and tastes delicious and some food matches and tastes delicious. Check.

There's a lot more to it, but their research is ongoing and is leading to further understanding of why and how food goes together. Of course they could also just ask Ludo. He already knows.

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