BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—North American and Western European cuisines exhibit a statistically significant tendency toward recipes whose ingredients share flavor compounds, while East Asian and Southern European cuisines avoid recipes whose ingredients share flavor compounds, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers at Indiana University looked at key ingredients of 56,498 online recipes and analyzed those ingredients for shared flavor compounds.
Some food scientists and chefs have developed a food pairing hypothesis that states that ingredients sharing flavor compounds are more likely to taste good together than ingredients that do not. Some application of this can be found at contemporary restaurants that successfully pair white chocolate and caviar, ingredients that both contain trimethylamine and other flavor compounds, or chocolate and blue cheese, which share at least 73 flavor compounds.
By creating a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients, the research team could reformulate the food pairing hypothesis into a hypothesis on the graph-topological properties of recipes in the flavor network. Statistical tests then can be used to unveil the connectedness, or the lack thereof, of ingredients and flavor compounds.
In this case, they took 381 ingredients from the group of recipes, along with an associated 1,021 flavor compounds that contributed flavor to those ingredients, and created a flavor network where ingredients are connected if they share at least one flavor compound.
“What we showed was that the recipes in North American cuisine tend to share more flavor compounds than expected. The most authentic ingredient pairs and triplets in North American cuisine also tend to share multiple flavor compounds, while compound-sharing links are rare among the most authentic combinations in East Asian cuisine," they said.
Their analysis also referenced that the number of actual recipes in use, on the order of about 106, was tiny when compared to the large number of potential recipes (over 1,015).
“e identified frequently used ingredients that contributed positively to the food pairing effect in North American cuisine, like milk, butter, cocoa, vanilla, cream and eggs," they said. “These played a disproportionate role, as 13 key ingredients that contributed to a shared compound effect were found in 74.4 percent of North American recipes."
Ingredients in East Asian cuisine—beef, ginger, pork, cayenne, chicken and onion—were the top contributors to an overall negative shared compound effect on food pairing.