Exploring the Science Behind Flavor Pairings

A look into a developing area of food science that looks into why certain foods taste so great together

Food Pairings

Have you ever considered why certain foods taste particularly good together? For example, why do peanut butter and jelly mingle so well while peanut butter and anchovies do not? A select group of scientists, flavor chemists, and chefs are developing a concept called flavor-pairing theory in the hopes of finding an answer.

The crux of the flavor-pairing theory is that foods which share common flavor compounds are likely to taste good together. The movement started with a partnership between Heston Blumenthal, chef-owner of the widely acclaimed U.K. restaurant The Fat Duck, and Francois Benzi, a flavor chemist at Firmenich, the world's premier flavor company. With Blumenthal's talent for developing unique flavor combinations and Benzi's chemical background, the duo began exploring the scientific reasoning behind what makes certain pairings work so well. They started sharing their research with like-minded peers online and experts and critics alike began paying attention.

Recent projects exploring food-pairing theory include Sense for Taste, a private firm that consults with restaurants and bars to help chefs and mixologists come up with innovative combinations. Another is the Flavornet Database, an online compilation of aroma compounds developed by a scientist at Cornell University.

For more on this fascinating and ever-developing area of food science, check out Chemical and Engineering News.