The Science behind Foodpairing®

Foodpairing is a scientific method to identify which foods & drinks go well together. To understand why ingredients match it's important to know how humans perceive flavour.

The complex story of our flavour experience

It's long been understood that our experience of food is a complex story and evolves all our 5 senses. Even though sight — impact of color or presentation of food — and hearing — expectation of crunchiness — affect our perception, there is no doubt that our flavour experience is mainly made up of the main sensations of taste, touch & smell.

The sense of taste is easily connected to our flavour experience. While tasting food we detect the 5 basic tastes in our mouth and on our tongue: sweet, salt, bitter, sour and umami.

The feeling we experience while biting and chewing our food makes us experience texture, freshness and pungency.

However, on average only 20% of our flavor experience is due to taste and touch. Far more important is our sense of smell.

The importance of smell and aroma

Through our sense of smell we are able to differentiate up to 10.000 different odors. Odors are also known as smells, scents or fragrances and consist of one or more aroma molecules.

Aromas are volatile and reach our sense of smell through the air we inhale. We perceive aromas both through the nose (orthonasal) and through the mouth (retronasal).

Aromas are the key drivers of our flavour experience and therefore crucial for the synergy of food and drinks. As much as 80% of what we call taste is actually aroma.

An example: Think about the smell of coffee. Containing over 1000 aromas, coffee has a nice strong roasted smell. Now take a sip of your coffee with your nose closed and this will turn your coffee into a bitter drink.

Scientific research

the aroma profile of ingredients

The aroma profile of culinary ingredients is the starting point of Foodpairing® and the scientific research. As a first step, Foodpairing® determines the aroma profile of a specific ingredient — like a simple strawberry — through gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

From these results, our Foodpairing® scientists extract the aroma data relevant to the human sense of smell.

A strawberry contains a few dozen of different aromas. However, in reality only a couple of aromas stand out clearly and determine that precise strawberry smell.

aromas relevant for the human sense of smell

An aroma has to reach a certain threshold in a specific ingredient to be sensible by humans. Through enhancing interactions, some aromas that are below this threshold do generate a detectable smell.

As we can see from the chart, it’s mainly the fruity, cheesy, green and roasted aromas that are the key aromasdefiningthe specific smell of strawberry.

calculation of pairings

As a second step, the Foodpairing® team uses scientific techniques such as data analysis and machine learning to create algorithms calculating how well foods & drinks match.

Years of research by Foodpairing® led to the following conclusion:

When different foods share certain key aromas they are more likely to pair well in a recipe.

We all know the classic combination of strawberry and chocolate. Its mainly the shared roastedaromas connecting these ingredients.Strawberry also matches to parmesan through cheesyaromas or to basil via citrus aromas.

That's how Foodpairing® confirms the traditional pairings we know, while also revealing non-traditional and surprising combinations.

The Foodpairing® Inspiration Tool

The Foodpairing® Inspiration Toolshows you how well ingredients match on aromatic level trough a match score.The better their match, the greater the likelihood of them going well together.

The tool allows you to discover pairings withmore than 1500 ingredients. From dairy to meat, from vegetables to spices, from spirits to coffees, from plants to insects, Foodpairing® traveled around the world in search of local products and unknown ingredients.

Try our Foodpairing® Inspiration Tool for yourself

Remember though: the food experience is influenced by more than just smell and aroma alone. The other senses still play a role in creating a balanced and tasty recipe. This is where you come in as a chef or bartender or other food professional and show off your expertise.