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Scientific American: The Flavor Connection [Interactive] • Scientists link common flavor compounds across the world's favorite ingredients

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"Julia Child famously said that fat carries flavor, but perhaps instead we should give thanks to 4-methylpentanoic acid. Unique combinations of such chemical compounds give foods their characteristic flavors. Science-minded chefs have gone so far as to suggest that seemingly incongruous ingredients—chocolate and blue cheese, for example—will taste great together as long as they have enough flavor compounds in common. Scientists recently put this hypothesis to the test by creating a flavor map, a variant of which we have reproduced here. Lines connect foods that have components in common; thick lines mean many components are shared. By comparing the flavor network with various recipe databases, the researchers conclude that chefs do tend to pair ingredients with shared flavor compounds—but only in Western cuisine. Dishes from a database of recipes from East Asia tend to combine ingredients with few overlapping flavors."

http://www.scientificamerican.com/art...

Scientific American » September 2013

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    1. Nice find.

      I some quibbles with the visualization, but it makes a number of things immediately clear that others (foodpairing.com, the Flavor Bible) do not.

      Raspberry and black tea? Rum and parmesan? Coffee and Peanut? Roast beef and, well, everything? Research is clearly necessary.

      5 Replies
      1. re: dml

        I also find the graphic too difficult to use -- to track the pink lines of commonality, and tease out what the blue dots are.

        It's long been known that "unrelated" foodstuffs have molecules in common. (I cover molecular mirroring in my food and wine pairing classes.) But a common molecule is not enough to bring harmony to two disparate foodstuffs -- more has to be going on.

        That's why some of these charts aren't too helpful in choosing two foodstuffs that have a molecular commonality and might actually taste good together. I remember the chart from a few years ago that found a molecular commonality in banana and ham. That may be true, but the molecular commonality didn't translate to flavor harmony or enhancement.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          Interesting. A ham sandwich made on banana bread, maybe?????

          1. re: maria lorraine

            i can see ham/pork with, say, banana or plaintain chips/tostones...

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Certainly the presence of common flavor compounds is no way deterministic of a harmonious match, as you say, but it's a tool that I find useful to expand my options when I find myself falling back on cliche combos.

              Your comment on banana-ham interaction implies that you *actually tried it*; regardless of whether you regard the particular combo as a failure, the fact that it inspired you to try it might be seen as a success.

              Unfortunately, there's no tool yet (except maybe cuuks.com) where one can comment on the actual outcome of putting these things in your mouth at the same time.

              1. re: dml

                <<Your comment on banana-ham interaction implies that you *actually tried it*; regardless of whether you regard the particular combo as a failure, the fact that it inspired you to try it might be seen as a success. >>

                That's not the way I look at it. I look at that specific molecular commonality as not being significant enough to create flavor harmony. I realized there has to more than a few molecules in common for two foods to have affinity.

                But I think it might be best to turn attention to the Scientific American chart that Melanie linked to.

                Any of those combos appeal or have been tried??