Flavor pairing is a controversial* topic which I’ve blogged about many times in the past. In my last post I suggested that predicted aroma similarity may be a more precise term, and below is an attempt to illustrate predicted aroma similarity (of type 2d according to this classification) by using a color analogy. Let me explain a little first: The letters describe different foods and colors are used to illustrate the sum of the key odorants. The normal situation is that foods A and K (which are perceived as different because they are far apart in the alphabet) also have different colors meaning that they share few or no key odorants. A and B however are close in the alphabet and have similar colors, hence they share key odorants. In some cases foods that we think are very different (A and Z) may turn out to share several key odorants (i.e. have similar colors). The “flavor pairing hypothesis” is a way of finding the “Z” based on predict aroma similarity. I think one reason why we cannot always find the “Z” is that our sense of smell is not very analytical (compared to a gas chromatograph). One thing which I hope becomes clearer with the color analogy is that for a successful pairing one will need contrasting elements as well. This was also a general experience from the TGRWT experiments. I’m very curious whether this communicates well or just makes things even more confusing, so feel free to leave a comment below!
Aroma similarity prediction (the “flavor pairing hypothesis”) is a tool to identify Z which (surprisingly) turns out to be quite similar to A because they share key odorants. As mentioned above, finding Z is what is difficult.
*Controversial: See for instance the latest issue of Gastronomica where Maurits de Klepper criticizes flavor pairing under the title “Food Pairing Theory – A European Food Fad”. It’s an interesting piece and I recommend that you buy access to read it. But I should quickly add that there are a couple of things that I disagree with. What I’ve previously formulated as a flavor pairing hypothesis is turned into a theory, and I also disagree with the formulation that “the more aromatic compounds two foods have in common, the better they taste together”. In my previous blog post on the topic I have reformulated my viewpoint as follows: For foods with a predicted aroma similarity based on the analysis of it’s volatiles there is a good chance that they can be used together in a dish. It’s also a pity that de Klepper doesn’t cover the topic of key odorants (or odor activity values) properly, but mixes up the different categories (2a, 2b, 2c and 2d) of aroma similarity prediction that I’ve outlined previously. Despite this de Klepper summarizes the experiences from TGRWT very well when he says that flavor pairing “is not a guaranteed recipe for success – balancing flavors is what does the trick”. I couldn’t agree more.