Food pairing – how to combine ingredients into surprisingly tasty dishes?

Caviar with white chocolate, blue cheese with cranberry, watermelon with feta, or maybe mint with chocolate? Some of these connections seem obvious, others less so. Food pairing is a science-based cooking method that helps you understand why some ingredients go so well together and others don’t. Find out what this approach is all about and how to use it creatively in your kitchen.

Food pairing is a culinary method in which ingredients are combined on the basis of their chemical composition, and specifically – the aromatic compounds contained in them. It is based on the belief that 80% of how we perceive the food we eat is not the taste, but the smell. Therefore, those products that are similar in terms of aromatic substances go well with each other – even if at first glance their taste does not match.

What food pairing means?

The food pairing method allows chefs to discover surprising combinations of flavors that will attract guests to the restaurant. In some cases, the ingredients of the dishes can be exchanged to obtain unusual variations on classic dishes. It is enough to reach for a product with a very similar profile – for example, a cucumber can be replaced with a watermelon, because both ingredients are characterized by a high content of the same compound.

Surprising combinations that taste simply delicious

The most famous combination of flavors associated with food pairing is black caviar and white chocolate. This combination was discovered in the 90s by the creator of the concept of food pairing – Heston Blumenthal. His assumptions were later confirmed by scientists who noticed that both of these products have a common aromatic compound, which is trimethylamine. It is to her that we can attribute the fact that these seemingly incompatible flavors go well with each other. This discovery became the basis for further exploration within the food pairing method.

What other unusual combinations have we discovered thanks to the art of food pairing?

banana and parsley,

cucumber and violet,

cucumber and strawberry,

chocolate and chilli,

chocolate and basil,

coffee and garlic,

ginger and feta,

passion fruit and oysters,

asparagus and cherries,

tangerines and thyme,

soy sauce and soft-boiled egg.

Interestingly, such combinations of flavors are only one side of food pairing. Many well-known compositions that have become a part of the European culinary tradition also owe their taste to the presence of the same aromatic compounds. We are talking about such iconic recipes as fish with lemon, pear with blue cheese, duck baked in apples or tomato with mozzarella and basil.

Food pairing in practice: how to introduce it in your kitchen?

  1. Look for ingredients with a similar aroma profile. For this purpose, you can use numerous books on food pairing or tools available on the Internet, such as the VCF database – Volatile Compounds in Food. With its help, you can search for specific products and aromatic compounds, as well as find combinations with potentially interesting flavors by comparison.
  2. Choose ingredients with a contrasting texture. In order for the dish not to be flat and monotonous, there should be at least one soft and one crunchy element in the dish. Of course, there are many different ways to describe the texture of dishes – when working on a new dish, try to vary the texture as much as possible.
  3. Balance the taste of the dish. With the right combination of ingredients, you can even out the taste or, on the contrary, intensify one note with another. For example, the addition of a small amount of salt reduces bitterness and balances sweetness. This is why a pinch of salt can significantly improve the taste of cookies with chocolate and give a unique character to caramel. In the same way, acidic additives balance the intense sweetness of cakes and desserts. Another example of how contrasting flavors interact is Chinese cuisine, where sweet, sour, and umami balance each other out.
  4. Practice makes perfect. Although food pairing is based on scientific discoveries, theory alone is not everything! It takes a lot of trials and experiments to create a unique recipe.