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Biotech Science

Debate Simmers Over Science of Food Pairing 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the gnutella-and-bananas-for-science dept.
carmendrahl writes "Why do foods taste good together? Scientists aren't anywhere near figuring it out, but that hasn't stopped one popular idea from spawning a company dedicated to discovering avant-garde new pairings. The idea, called flavor-pairing theory, says that if foods share a key odor molecule, they'll pair well. But some scientists say the idea can't explain all cuisines, and another contends his work with tomato flavor (abstract) shows that flavor pairing is 'a gimmick by a chef who is practicing biology without a license.'"
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Debate Simmers Over Science of Food Pairing

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  • oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by Johann Lau (1040920) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @03:56PM (#40390723) Homepage Journal

    That would be cool if you could eat a good food with a bad food and the good food would cover for the bad food when it got to your stomach. Like you could eat a carrot with an onion ring and they would travel down to your stomach, then they would get there, and the carrot would say, "It's cool, he's with me."

    -- Mitch Hedberg

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by bbecker23 (1917560)
      My kingdom for a mod-point.

      But now I'm sad, cause I miss him so much.
      • Same. I'm now eating an apple with potato chips as a tribute or something :) And it tastes much better than I expected, too.

        Mitch Hedberg said some quite profound stuff IMHO. For example, "I once saw a human pyramid. It was totally unneccessary." to me is up there with, you know, philosophy and political commentary and shit. RIP and thanks for all the fish, obviously.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        That is why I always get a little bummed myself. While I miss someone like Carlin or Pryor, at least they gave us decades of laughs that we can look back on. with Hedberg or Hicks or Kinison...sigh. It seemed like they were just starting to really find their grooves, you just knew they were gonna have so much more to say..then gone. Damned shame, that's what it is, just a damned shame.

        As for weird foods that go great together? i'll give ya one i bet most here haven't tried...mashed potatoes on pizza. hear m

        • by bryan1945 (301828)

          That actually sounds like an idea I'd try. Do you mix any butter in with the mashed potatoes, or just plain? How thin do you spread the potatoes over the pizza? Do you use any garlic or onion powder/salt in the potatoes. If it's a meat pizza, do you think a few drops of GravyMaster in the potatoes would enhance the flavor?
          I can't believe I'm talking recipes on /. lol

          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            I usually keep the potatoes plain, too much butter can make it have an oily texture and its all about the texture with this. I usually use a cake frosting spreader to get a nice even layer, but how thick you want it really depends on personal taste and pizza we are talking about. if we are talking about say a single layer beef or pepperoni I would make it thinner as the point is to enhance rather than overpower the pizza flavor, I'd say about a pinky nail thick, while I'd double or maybe even a little more

            • by bryan1945 (301828)

              Thanks. My wife and I do this thing we call "experimental cooking," where we deviate from the common, just as you are doing. I believe this may become one of those experiments. The nifty thing is the wife will occasionally make home made pizza, so now I can see all kinds of fun with playing with that. :D

  • ...if you're a "Plate Turner"...and just eat one thing at a time.

    They always wondered why spaghetti and french fries sounded good to me late night in college....

    :)

    • by Johann Lau (1040920) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @03:58PM (#40390771) Homepage Journal

      That still sounds great to me. Or putting salad not next to, but ON the spaghetti. YUM! The best meals I can only eat in solitude, society just doesn't understand.

      • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:10PM (#40390921) Homepage Journal
        Well, I didn't mean mixed together.

        I'm a plate turner...not quite as bad as when I was young..but I just don't like my foods mixed.

        When I'd eat..I'd have multiple things on my plate..but I'd eat all of one thing..finish is, then often, literally turn the plate to eat the next thing in succession (I don't recall if always clockwise or counter clockwise or if there was a pattern...likely just the next best thing)...eat that..then turn.....etc.

        As a kid, my favorite thing, was those plates that had compartments..so that one food didn't touch the other food.

        Hence, in my example above..of late nights on weekends in college...going to Denny's I'd order spaghetti and meatballs or something...and a side of fries, things that don't generally pair...but was ok for me, since I'd eat all the spaghetti...then, turn my attention to the fries.

        I find I don't usually drink and eat at the same time, even to this day. I don't wash my food down.

        For years, i've been trying to make a concerted effort to change this at least for wine...so I can do like most say, and enjoy a good wine paired with a meal. I used to get pissed when eating with others...I'd drink a bit of wine that came before the meal...but during the meal, I'd stop drinking...and when the meal was over, since the others hadn't stopped drinking and eating together...the wine often was gone....

        While I'm not as bad as I used to be...if I don't think about it...I still do the one food at a time thing to a great extent.

        I love to cook, but one of my downfalls is that I've not grown up learning what foods do go well together when planning menus for others. To me, I'm just usually concerned about each individual dish's flavor...but not how they integrate into a meal...when enjoyed by others that eat a bit of this and a bit of that all through the meal.

        • Oh. I'm the exact opposite.

          Not drinking (anything, I don't mean alcohol) while eating is the smart thing to do though... be glad it's not a habit you have to drop :) Maybe just slip a bottle under the table while nobody is looking, then notice it after the meal is over? ^^

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            Not drinking (anything, I don't mean alcohol) while eating is the smart thing to do though... be glad it's not a habit you have to drop :)

            Interesting..I'd heard that before, but never have investigated it.

            I suppose that not drinking while eating....is a large contributing factor, to me NOT eating baked/roasted turkey for Thanksgiving. No matter where I've had it...and how 'moist' everyone claimed it was..to me, it was like chewing cardboard.

            That's why at Tday, for years...I always to Standing Rib Roast.

            • Agreed. I have only ever rarely had turkey dinner that didn't need to be covered in gravy to simulate the moistness that it should have had to begin with, despite fellow diner's claims to the contrary.

              Did you also get the thing where if you don't put much on your plate, or don't eat it all, they want to know why, see through your attempts to lie about not being that hungry or whatever else you can think of, and get upset when you tell the truth?

              I have, however, occasionally had good turkey dinner, and I ca

              • by serbanp (139486)

                Obviously, the key element to a perfectly baked turkey is brining the bird for 12-16 hours, then placing it in the medium-hot oven...

                • by s.petry (762400)

                  Even without the brine I never make dry turkey, sounds like it may be cooked at too high of a temperature. 325 max for a Turkey, basting every 1/2 hour or so. The other part of a dry bird is normally letting it set to long uncovered after removing from the oven. Until you are ready to cut, keep a big sheet of foil over it. After cutting, replace the foil so the rest does not get dry while you eat.

                  Call me odd, but I prefer Turkey and Chicken over Beef and Pork. I eat beef maybe once a week, and pork may

              • 2) Cooking time is pretty critical.

                Here's s foolproof method for cooking birds so they're moist and tender, based on the Hainan chicken recipe. It works by bringing the proteins in the bird above their denaturing temperature in a non-drying, salt-balanced environment first, then using high heat to generate the Maillard reactions for the roasted flavour. By keeping the temp below 100c, you also avoid stretching the muscle fibres by passing boiling liquids passing between them.

                Put the bird in a pot of salted water or stock, add herbs, spices e

              • by cayenne8 (626475)
                I have found basically only 3 ways to do a whole turkey that I find enjoyable, and moist.

                1. Whole Deep Fried Turkey....turns out moist and not greasy at all, if you watch the oil temps.

                2. Smoked Turkey...I can brine then smoke a whole turkey in my bandera style smoker..and comes out moist and tasty...this is my favorite.

                3. Turdukey...de boned Chicken stuffed in a de boned duck, stuffed in a de boned turkey...with 3 different stuffings, one between each layer. this is then roasted. There is the fat in the

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          >>>As a kid, my favorite thing, was those plates that had compartments..so that one food didn't touch the other food.

          I used to be like that, but once I get to college they just dumped the food on my plate haphazardly. I still don't want peas IN my mashed potatoes, but I no longer care if they touch one another...... or if a pea rolls into the turkey and gets gravy on it.

          BTW spaghetti with a side of fries sounds okay to me. Both have the same thing in common: Seasoned with ketchup. ;-)

          • by Muros (1167213)
            I'm the exact opposite. I love peas & mash together. In fact, I'd say the best way to have mashed potatoes is with peas, stuffing & gravy mixed in.
            • by s.petry (762400)

              Isn't mashed potatoes a condiment similar to ketchup? Great on meat and veggies, and sometimes gravy solo but mostly good with other things. Mashed potato's on a fork is the easiest, and tastiest, way for me to pick up and eat corn off the cob.

            • by RockDoctor (15477)
              Peas and mash is a well-known fast food in some parts of the world. Specifically West Yorkshire and possibly over the border into Lancashire ; possibly other areas.

              It's perfectly palatable. A bit of graaaaaaaavy too, that'll be fine.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            BTW spaghetti with a side of fries sounds okay to me. Both have the same thing in common: Seasoned with ketchup. ;-)

            Tell me you actually do understand the difference between ketchup and spaghetti sauce...

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The condition you have is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            The condition you have is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

            No...not really a compulsion. I mean, I don't get 'uptight' because food on my plate touches each other....It is just that I like to taste the individual flavors of everything. I don't think things taste as good when mixed...for most things.

            Mexican food...for example, is an exception, since it all (at least Tex Mex in the US) is basically the same shit, just rolled up differently....basically corn tortillas, beans, meat, cheese....so, that doesn't

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I used to get pissed when eating with others...I'd drink a bit of wine that came before the meal...but during the meal, I'd stop drinking...and when the meal was over, since the others hadn't stopped drinking and eating together...the wine often was gone....

          Impressive. Most people actually have to drink more wine in order to get pissed.

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            Impressive. Most people actually have to drink more wine in order to get pissed.

            I don't get what your meaning...?

            Why would I drink more wine to get mad? I'm not a mean drunk....?

            • by Anonymous Coward

              to be pissed can mean both to be angry, and to be drunk. the more you know.
              what are you, some sort of foreigner? i dont mean not american they are foreigners too.

            • AC above is not American. Elsewhere in the world, getting pissed involves becoming drunk, not angry.

        • by Kreigaffe (765218)

          So you're a Romulan. Got it.

  • by DeTech (2589785) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @03:57PM (#40390731)
    You can't call that biology. That and the premise itself is flawed. "Why do foods taste good together?". More like, "Why do we think foods taste good together?".
    • by zAPPzAPP (1207370)

      It is flawed, because it does not make any sense.

      If two foods share a certain molecule, then that is the same as one food having the molecule and one lacking it.
      You have the molecule in your mouth from food 1 alone already. You will not be able to taste, which food the molecule you're tasting came from. So it does not matter at all, if food 2 also has this molecule. That would only increase the total amount of that molecule in your mouth, which you would also get by eating twice as much of food 1 at once.

      An

      • by s.petry (762400)

        From TFA, it's not that they are trying to pair two pieces of sugar. It's more like they are taking the chemicals from oranges, more for the acid molecules, and mixing them with buttermilk which may have similar acid molecules. This differs in that it's not the major flavor they are trying to pair, but the other components we don't notice. Warning!: Trying that combination may lead to curdled milk in your stomach and cause vomiting.

        I'm with most that say it's all bunk, and could not be made in to a scie

  • More like practicing comedy without a license.
  • The guy will dip french fries in ANYTHING.

    • by DeTech (2589785)
      I'm pretty sure that's just called fat.
    • Wendy's french fries dipped in a chocolate frosty. Heads turn when I do this. But, it's pretty damn good.

      Don't knock it till you try it.

      • Many years ago, I was at The Tasty in Cambridge, MA. A guy sat at the counter and ordered french fries with some soft-serve vanilla to dip them into. The cook said "That's disgusting. You can't have it." I miss the Tasty.

  • Wrong target (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:14PM (#40390985) Homepage Journal
    Its not a food attribute to taste good or bad, is a cultural/personal thing, what you associated to that kind of tastes since early childhood (or even before). Mixing 2 could raise odds of reviving what you felt in the past while tasting one of the components.
    • by DeTech (2589785)
      Exactly. Food doesn't inherently taste good or bad. EXCEPT BACON.
    • by Zakabog (603757)

      This post exactly. It's not that a hot dog with ketchup and fries is a perfect pairing of food, it's just what you might be used to growing up so eating one is often attributed to the other. I don't think tacos and Pepsi are a perfect pairing but whenever I go to Taco Bell I want Pepsi with my meal. I never noticed this till I stopped drinking soda, the meal tastes odd without the Pepsi because that's what I used to drink every time I went.

    • by mvdwege (243851)

      Precisely.

      What fits well together is largely a cultural thing. Consider this: in England eating vinegar sprinkled over deep fried potatoes is considered de rigueur. On the continent this draws looks of horror, here we eat our chips the Belgian way: with mayonnaise.

      Now, there's some physical aspects of how tastes go together. Some tastes will overpower others, so combining them is not a good idea. But the individual reaction as to how well two things fit together? I think looking for a physical explanation f

      • What fits well together is largely a cultural thing. Consider this: in England eating vinegar sprinkled over deep fried potatoes is considered de rigueur. On the continent this draws looks of horror, here we eat our chips the Belgian way: with mayonnaise.

        I always thought it was a combination of cultural expectations and the fact people aren't open to explore the tastes that are foreign to them. I like deep fried potatoes with vinegar, mayo, gravy, mustard, and ketchup. Sure each flavor combination is different, but if someone truly gives it a chance...who knows what you like!

        Of course, it is possible that a deep fried potato taste good with everything.

        • by mvdwege (243851)

          I actually like chips the English way. But that was because I took the trouble to try it when I was visiting the UK. If I say that out loud over here in the Netherlands, people look upon me as if I were a madman.

  • by ichthus (72442)
    Beer + Mexican food = yum.
  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:18PM (#40391055)

    I tried Domino's today and their tomato sauce did NOT "pair" well with the cheese (too spicy/strong). Next time I'll try marinara sauce or goback to Pizza Hut.

    I also don't like the so-called Sweet & Sour chicken my asian friends sometimes feed me. Just straight sweet is my preference.

  • Just tell me how the conservative and liberal politicians weigh-in on this debate so I can form my opinion without knowing any of the facts.
  • There's a reason that a professional sommelier is something yet to be replaced by a computer. Gastronomy is a young science, but an ancient art. Modernist Cuisine is cool and all, but if I want something that tastes good, I'm more likely to trust someone using a recipe perfected over several generations or even several centuries.
    • Oh come on, who the hell modded that down. He's got a point there. However, the scientific aspects are developing rapidly, and, when used in combination with the ancient art, can lead to fascinating results. One of the best winemakers I personally know is also a chemist. He worked in a wine research lab for several years before concentrating solely on winemaking - with great results based on a combination of age-old artisanal knowledge and modern scientific results.
  • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:00PM (#40391547)

    that hasn't stopped one popular idea from spawning a company dedicated to discovering avant-garde new pairings

    Next up: patenting food combinations as "inventions".

  • For reasons I can't really explain, I got it into my head to try peanut butter and Marmite in a sandwhich. It's the only food combo I have ever eaten where the 2 flavours stay completely seperate, even as you chew. It's the oddest sensation eating it. Everything else becomes a blend when you mix it up but not these two. Very, very strange and well worth a try for the experience.
  • ...mixed with one or two spoons of trend. Often common, but a bit unavoidable when you're in the "gap" between the the "hard" and the "soft" sciences - following the scientific method of either often makes you to discard the other.

    Yes, how food tastes is molecular. Is biological - that's why no culture will like foods that smell i.e. like shit. But if you try to analyze it as just Bio, and just throw out the social part, your research won't go well.
    Using just as an example as how much culture affects you
    • Wait a second. Are you claiming the 'soft sciences' use scientific method at all?

    • The pairings you give as example don't look particularly off to me. Honey and egg? Well, perhaps not alone, but honey-glazed bacon with egg works. Red wine+fish sauce on lamb? I don't know how garum tasted exactly, but fermented fish sauces used in Asian cuisines work well with red meat. I'd worry a bit about losing the complexity of a wine reduction by adding fish sauce - but that's not a general incompatibility.

      I don't think taste pairings are that much cultural. I haven't encountered many dishes from c
  • Odor is Everything (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EmagGeek (574360) <<gterich> <at> <aol.com>> on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:44PM (#40391907) Journal

    Pinch your nose closed and take a bite of your favorite succulent cuisine. You'll quickly realize that taste is not what you think it is, and that what your brain perceives as "taste" depends much more on olfactory stimulation than on your tastebuds.

    I learned that first watching Mr. Wizard's World way back in the 80s. :)

  • We find meat taste better with onion and garlic because onion and garlic helps prevent meat going bad. That was one conjecture I've read and sounds feasible on evolutionary ground.
  • Dark chocolate and coffee, dark chocolate and pretzels, dark chocolate and pinot noir, dark chocolate and mint... hmm, gotta find a non-chocolate example. Tequila and lime?

  • by jandersen (462034) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @02:08AM (#40395249)

    What goes well together is very much a cultural thing, as I think anybody who travels will know. Personally, I've had boiled sweets with garlic or durian flavour in Thailand; my Chinese wife tends to combine foods in surprising ways too - like apple pie with baked beans or cakes with a fruit and chicken filling. Or take this new, stomach churning trend where you get chocolate sauce with meat (shudder).

    I guess if you are open minded enough, most things can go well together. And if you are pregnant, well.... let's say no more, but I knew one lady who had a craving for fishcakes and blue cheese (with nothing else).

    • by neminem (561346)

      New, stomach-churning trend?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)#Poblano [wikipedia.org]

      Garlic in sweets can be quite tasty, too. Don't even need to go to Thailand - the Gilroy Garlic Festival, while a bit overcrowded, does a great job showing that off. Garlic+vanilla ice cream: superb.

    • And if you are pregnant, well.... let's say no more, but I knew one lady who had a craving for fishcakes and blue cheese (with nothing else).

      I have yet to find any citable articles on this, but I am of the opinion that the odd pregnancy cravings are driven by the developing baby needing specific building blocks at specific times.

      I've noted that pregnant women will frantically sample many foods in quick succession seeking out that which satisfies the cravings. Once they find the right combo for the moment, it doesn't matter how ghastly the combo is. These gastronomic non-sequiters often evolve throughout the pregnancy.

      The reason they happen is

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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