Visualizing food: a new way to see aroma and flavor

When we decided to publish a book nearly two years ago on the story behind Foodpairing, our approach to sensory science, and information on ingredients, it was clear that our original method for visualizing flavors and aromas lacked the high level of clarity and sophistication we wanted. That’s why we upgraded the way we visualize aromas and flavors with three new visualization styles.

Aroma wheel visualization

As you can see, the new aroma wheel is much more dynamic, including a new wavy band that refers to the volatility of aroma molecules. The advantage of this new visualization is our ability to show the complete representation of the aroma profile. Every aroma descriptor present, no matter how small, can now be displayed in this aroma wheel.

The aroma wheel consists of 2 separate rings. The inner circle shows all 14 aroma types. From here, the present aroma descriptors show the aroma profile of the ingredient in the outer circles. If an aroma type is not found in the profile, it will be grayed out.

The width of the band in the outer circle indicates the intensity of that particular descriptor in the flavor profile. The distance between a certain aroma type and its associated descriptors, connected by a wavy band, reflects the intensity of this particular aroma type in the aroma profile.

In the aroma wheel above, we see that the vegetable and green aroma types are the most important descriptors in fresh porcini mushrooms. They are therefore furthest away from the inner circle. The roasted and nutty aroma type follows in rank. Within the green aroma type, the descriptor green has the highest intensity (thickest band), followed by fatty and cucumber

In the small variant of the aroma wheel, called an aroma fingerprint, we have removed the circle with the aroma types and only the aroma descriptors present in the profile are displayed. Here too, the thickness and length of the band determine the intensity of the descriptor: the thicker and longer, the higher the intensity. We also limit the naming of only the descriptors that have a certain intensity.

Linear visualization

We have already published one of the new visualizations in the porcini mushrooms blog. It is an alternative linear representation of the aroma profile, identifying all the present aroma descriptors per product.

This representation enables us to clearly show the change of the aroma during a certain process, or the differences between ingredients or cultivars. Consider, for example, Cognac: what does the profile of the base wine look like, what changes during the distillation of the wine; what is the effect of the aging of the spirit in the barrel and how does a VSOP differ from an XO?

Each ingredient is represented by a bar, which displays every aroma descriptor present. The length of each descriptor indicates the intensity of that particular descriptor in the product. A wavy band links each descriptor separately in each ingredient. This visualization style gives you a quick overview of the intensity of a certain aroma descriptor, as well as how the aroma type and aroma descriptor evolves. If an aroma descriptor disappears, it becomes blank.

A list of all descriptors can be found at the top of the bar of the first ingredient. When a descriptor is highlighted in its respective color, this descriptor can be found in at least 1 ingredient of the comparative analysis. You can see at a glance which descriptor is present or missing for each ingredient.

Pairing dot grid visualization

The newest addition to Foodpairing visualizations, the pairing dot grid, provides more insight into certain combinations.

The pairing grid consists of columns with colored dots that correspond to one of the 14 aroma types. At the top of the grid is the main ingredient, and below is a separate list of possible combinations.

Each line shows the flavor profile of an ingredient. A small colored dot indicates the presence of this aroma type in that particular ingredient. A large colored dot indicates that there is an aromatic match between the main ingredient and the complimentary ingredient in that specific aroma type, being they have 1 or more key aroma molecules in common. If the aroma type is not present in the aroma profile of the ingredient, a small black dot is displayed.

In the dot grid above we have cep as the main ingredient. It can be combined with roasted hazelnut, sweet cherry, dark chocolate, coriander (cilantro), etc. When we zoom in on coriander, we see that the profile contains fruity, citrus, floral, green, herbal, woody and spicy aroma types. Because the citrus and green aroma types have larger dots, they form the aromatic link with cep.

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