Peanut butter and jelly, mint and chocolate, salt and vinegar...these are all food pairings enjoyed by most of us, regardless of our age, economic background or gender. Have you ever stopped to think why this is? Find out more about flavour profiles and what ingredients to combine in your own kitchen.
Flavour... the indication of the essential character of something doesn't come in a shiny packet accompanied with preservatives, numbers or other laboratory concocted additives. True flavour is created at the hands of a cook; a human, not a machine line. It's lovingly selected from real ingredients from mother earth and the alchemy of these personally chosen ingredients, drawn together with love and skill that produces genuine character to a dish.
As children, we’re first introduced to different flavours by the foods our parents feed us. From then on, as we become more independent and begin eating more independently, going to friends’ houses, and trying different cultural cuisines, we learn and accumulate knowledge on what tastes good to us through a lifelong process of trial and error.
Flavour profiles of foods
Foods have different 'flavour profiles', which are semi-classifications of how they taste. You’ll find just a handful of these universal flavour profiles, such as sweet, salty, fatty and spicy, the Japanese have a favourite called 'unami' or savoury. In Ayurvedic philosophies, the sense of taste is a natural roadmap directed towards good nutrition and characterised by six individual tastes; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent.
Texture of foods
Texture also plays an important role, as it allows certain ingredients to enhance the satisfying flavour of others. Just think how much better crunchy croutons taste when they are tossed in creamy soups or served over crisp salads as opposed to when they are eaten as a stand-alone snack. Bitter and salty are the only flavour profiles that actually enhance the flavours of other ingredients, while the other profiles act more as compliments.
Food pairing in molecular gastronomy is based on the principal that foods combine well with one another when they share key flavour components. All foods contain flavour compounds. For example, a compound called isoamyl acetate is what gives bananas and pears their distinct aromas. Flavour pairing is simply combining foods that have the same flavour compounds. Over the last 10 years there have been some impressive findings in the study of human taste biochemistry. It just so happens that our mouths like to maintain a careful balance between flavours. For example, if something is too bitter, we look for something sweet to counteract it. If something is too salty, we look for something with a higher water content and bland flavour to balance it out. The concept of creating perfect flavour pairings is employed by chefs, sommeliers, food technologists and even perfumeries.
Flavour combinations that work
Some pairings just work, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and I’ve featured six of the most common food-pairing combinations that go together effortlessly. Some of these you might have heard of, others may seem a little out of the ordinary, like my Cauliflower and Raspberry Cheesecake recipe. All I can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
It’s quite incredible what our taste palates are capable of appreciating, and by employing a few simple principles of molecular gastronomy, you too can create simple, healthy, chef-inspired meals all in the comfort of your own home.
1. Sweet and sour
Remember those sour gummy bears you use to enjoy as a kid? The concept of sweet and sour is one that Asian cuisines frequently employ, particularly in their sauces and soups. Try creating your own healthy sweet and sour snacks by drizzling apple cider vinegar over strawberries, or squeezing lime juice over ripe pineapple. The sweetness of fruit helps to counter the bitterness and acidity of the vinegar and lime juice, which, if consumed by themselves, have the tendency to make us pull all sorts of unflattering faces.
2. Salt and fatty
This is a principle employed all too often by major fast-food chains. Think French fries, fried chicken, and sky high beef burgers. The good news is that all unhealthy fast food meals have a healthy variation. Try swapping your French fries for healthy sweet potato fries. Simply roast some sweet potatoes in a little coconut oil and season with Himalayan sea salt and your spices of choice. I particularly love cumin and paprika! Bake on low heat in the oven until crispy.
3. Sweet and fat
Chocolate croissants, French toast, French Fries dipped in soft serve does this sound familiar? Combining the luxurious, creamy texture of fatty foods with sweet flavours sends our taste buds straight to heaven. But this combination doesn’t necessarily have to be unhealthy, as all fats are not created equal. In fact, healthy fats are amongst some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. A healthy dessert version is chocolate mousse. All you need is half an avocado, a few cashews, some cacao powder, and a little natural sweetener such as honey to add sweetness. Simply blend in a high-speed blender and bombs away.
4. Sweet and spicy
Chilli chocolate is just one example of a sweet and spicy flavour combination. A simple snack that takes only a few minutes to create and that exploits this unique flavour pairing is maple chilli walnuts. Simply coat some walnuts in rice malt syrup, season with chilli (but don’t go too crazy!) and roast them slightly on a sheet of baking paper in the oven on low heat until they turn golden brown and crunchy. These make great movie-snack replacements to sodium and butter-loaded popcorn. Try chilli flavoured chocolates too.
5. Sweet and salty
You tend to see this pairing often in delicatessens. Cheese platters that contain dried fruits, prosciutto wrapped around rock melon are all delicious flavour pairings. I tend to employ this principle of food pairing often in my salads, like my lazy-person’s salad containing some fresh greens, lemon juice, tomatoes, olives and grapes. Dress with a little olive oil and Himalayan sea salt and be transported to flavour paradise.
6. Sweet and savoury
Vegan raw dessert recipes make great use of this principle. Think zucchini muffins, salted peanut butter fudge and, what you’ve been patiently waiting for, my simple, healthy and absolutely scrumptious Cauliflower and Raspberry Cheesecake recipe, check it out here! It tastes so scrumptious and has been road tested on children. It’s a handy way to sneak some extra vegetables and dietary fibre into their diets too, and contains nothing but wholesome, fresh ingredients that contain a multitude of health benefits. The cheesecake gets its deliciously creamy texture from the cauliflower, and combines an unusual but pleasant pair-up with seasonal fresh raspberries; a perfect use of plant-based produce in delicious dessert form.
What's your favourite food pairing or flavour combination? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below!