The Food Pairing hypothesis

The backbone of the flavor network, from Ahn Y., Sebastian E. Ahnert S., Bagrow J.P. & Barabási A-L., Flavor network and the principles of food pairing
The Food Pairing hypothesis says that aliments combine together well when they share some major flavour component, identified as a chemical constituent of the culinary product. The success of the food pairing is so that new matching of ingredients have been tried by avant-garde chefs. A well known example is the pairing of white chocolate and caviar, justified by the fact that these two products share trimethylamine, the organic compound that gives fish their fishy odor.

Flavour is a very complex sensation that involves many senses and chemical receptors in the body. As many sensations actually participate in defining what is the individual response to flavour, it is believed that the systematic study of the chemical components of food can shed light on the reason why some ingredients have more chances to fit together well in a recipe.

Actually, the compounds that are known to contribute to the flavour of culinary ingredients is determined by chemical analysis. The ingredients that are alike, following the food pairing hypothesis, are connected in a network that maps the relations between aliments. These results are used mainly as a source of inspiration for chefs, and other scholars studying food.

Nevertheless, the food pairing hypothesis is not widely acknowledged. Beside the bare chemical compounds, there are many ingredients whose main role may not be only flavouring but something else as well (e.g. eggs’ role to ensure mechanical stability or agar-agar’s role to ensure a dense appetizing texture). Moreover, the flavour of a dish owes as much to the mode of preparation as to the choice of particular ingredients. The cultural background also reveals its importance because traditional and local ingredients are the elements that forged the heritage of any kind of cuisine. This aspect seems to be put aside by blind followers of the food pairing hypothesis.

The research on food pairing however reveals the new interest in materials and techniques for cooking. The hypothesis starts from a solid ground, and participated to launch the recent scientific systematic approach to food studies, which must also search for evidence supporting (or refuting) any food pairing rule.


Recommended lecture:

  • Ahn Y., Sebastian E. Ahnert S., Bagrow J.P. & Barabási A-L. (2011), “Flavor network and the principles of food pairing”, Nature Scientific Reports 1, 196.

About Alexandre Albore

Alexandre likes to cook and to eat. After obtaining his PhD in Artificial Intelligence on Automated Planning, he now works on aerospace applications of AI. Alexandre lives actually in Toulouse, France. Google+
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