Which ingredients make a bit sour taste?

Food pairing - the science of taste

Stina Spiegelberg reveals what this new cooking trend is all about

[23-10-2017] Food pairing? Our dear vegan blogger and vegan cook Stina Spiegelberg explains exactly what that is.

For many people, cooking means calm, sensuality and enjoyment. We learn which flavors go together through experience and a sensitive sense of ingredients.

But even if taste can be learned, there seem to be combinations that have a firm place in people's hearts across the globe.

Food pairing opens exactly this door and turns the flavors into a science that should definitely be tried together.

The flavors

In order to combine taste, it is helpful to understand how we perceive it.
Our tongue has receptors of the five flavors sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (“hearty, meaty”). The balance of these five taste qualities ensures that we perceive a dish as "round".
Different textures and temperatures on a plate also ensure that the food does not get boring until the last bite.
But the taste of a food, its sharpness, temperature and texture are only complete through the aroma. We perceive this with our nose. 80 percent of our taste experience is perceived through our olfactory cells alone.

The preparation is as important as the ingredients

In food pairing, i.e. in the interplay of taste notes in a dish, the harmony of the aromas determines a result that is harmonious in terms of taste. The selected starting ingredients and spices play a role here.
Even more exciting, however, is to taste how aroma compounds are chemically changed through a variety of preparation methods such as pickling, fermenting, smoking or oxidizing, resulting in new food pairings.

The Belgian Bernard Lahousse is a tinkerer and agricultural engineer and has set himself the task of scientifically exploring why some flavors taste good together and others don't. Because despite appearing contradicting ingredients, they can taste delicious together and evoke positive associations when enjoyed - for example blueberries and fermented cheese.

The ligands

The five flavors of our tongue are complemented by countless fragrances in our olfactory cells. Our food and our environment contain tens of thousands of different fragrance molecules, known in technical terms as ligands.

The high number of these molecules in a nut, for example, seems confusing at first glance. From a chemical point of view, however, these odor molecules can be divided into categorical groups. These groups allow conclusions to be drawn about their odor on the basis of this assignment. With the help of this group membership, it is then possible - without an odor test, so to speak on the paper in advance - to see how a spice containing this molecule smells.

The food pairing tree

The range of flavors in individual foods is large. So-called key aromas stand out as a combination of aromas in a food and thus determine its odor.
If the key aromas of different foods are cleverly combined with one another, new flavor compositions are created. The more related these flavors are, the better they go together.
Outwardly identical ingredients can have completely different flavors depending on the cultivation, soil conditions, storage and preparation. The actual allocation of food can therefore be done by tasting it yourself.

The food pairing tree is a practical aid for experimental kitchens and creative cooks (here using the pear as an example). With its help, tastes and aromas can be summarized according to food and thus find suggestions for a creative play with aromas.
Taking into account aromas, textures and mouthfeel, the various foods in the Foodpairing Tree can be divided into the following nine groups (counterclockwise): Acid, sweetness, vegetables (earthy), oils, herbs, glutamines (umami), fermented foods ( such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yoghurt), drinks & spirits, fruits.

Try it out!

Playing with flavors and types of preparation has its charm and excites in a playful way. Food pairing can be tried out at home with very simple ingredients and integrated into everyday life. For example, by adding sweet ingredients to a hearty dish or by adding new combinations to familiar spices to create previously unimagined taste experiences.

You already know chocolate with chilli? Then try caramelized coconut chips in tomato sauce or lavender flowers on fermented cashew curd. Retailers have also tried out exciting food combinations in convenience products that can be used as inspiration and cooked at home with fresh ingredients.

The scientific justification for harmonious taste experiences opened up a new horizon for me. Since then, nothing has been impossible for me in the creative kitchen and my refrigerator has become the color palette of flavors. That's why I would like to invite you to try your own food pairing and explore a new little universe with it.


I can recommend these books to anyone who has gained interest in the subject of food pairing with this article:

Flavor pairing
Heiko Antoniewicz, Matthaes Verlag

Aroma - the art of seasoning
Thomas A. Vierich, Thomas A. Vilgis; Stiftung Warentest

The taste thesaurus
Niki Segnit, Piper Verlag

Cooking for show-offs
Thomas Vilgis, Stiftung Warentest