Foodpairing, or the non-registered trademarked term food pairing, is a method for identifying which foods go well together from a flavor standpoint, while food combining identifies foods that match from a nutritional or digestive standpoint. The method is based on the principle that foods combine well with one another when they share key flavor components. It is a relatively new method that began around the start of the 21st century and is often confused with wine and food matching. By contrast, Foodpairing uses HPLC, gas chromatography and other laboratory methods to analyse food and find chemical components that they have in common.
Foodpairing should not be confused with the discredited protein combination theory for vegetarians and vegans, which combined foods to make a complete protein. The term should also not be confused with food combining, which is done for health reasons.
The Foodpairing method is designed to inspire chefs, foodies, home cooks and food engineers. The method aids recipe design and provides new possible food combinations, which are theoretically sound on the basis of their flavor. Foodpairing provides possible food combinations, which are solely based on the intrinsic properties of the different food products; these combinations are based on the flavor compounds that are present in the products. This results in possible combinations that are innovative, rather than being influenced or restricted by the cultural and traditional context of the products. This independence occasionally results in surprising and unusual combinations (e.g. endives in a dessert, white chocolate and caviar, or chocolate and cauliflower). They may be unusual, but these combinations are quite tasty to many people because the combined food products have flavor components in common. The Foodpairing methodology opens a whole new world of possible food combinations.
Additionally, Foodpairing is able to provide a scientific, modern basis for the success of traditionally settled food combinations. It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of the traditional top hit combinations like bacon and cheese, and asparagus and butter have many flavor components in common.
Experimenting with salty ingredients and chocolate around the turn of the century, Heston Blumenthal, the chef of The Fat Duck, discovered that caviar and white chocolate are a perfect match. To find out why, he contacted François Benzi of Firmenich, the largest privately owned flavor house in the world. By comparing the flavor analysis of both foods, they found that caviar and white chocolate had major flavor components in common. At that time, they created the hypothesis that different foods will combine well together when they share major flavor components, and Foodpairing was born. In 2009, the Flanders Taste foundation organized a gastronomic symposium, "The Flemish Primitives", completely dedicated to Foodpairing.
Foodpairing starts with a chemical analysis of a food. The aroma compounds are determined with the aid of gas chromatography, which in most cases is coupled with a mass spectrometer (GC-MS). The odorants are also quantified with other techniques. Key odorants can be identified by comparing the concentrations of the odorants with their respective flavor threshold. Key odorants are the compounds that a human will effectively smell. They are defined as every compound that is present in concentrations higher than their specific flavor threshold.
For example, coffee contains 700 different aroma compounds, but there are only a couple of aroma compounds important for the smell of coffee because most of them are present in concentrations that may not be perceptible with the human nose, i.e. they are present in concentrations lower than their flavor threshold.
The key odorants are essential towards composing the flavor profile of the given product. The resultant flavor profile is screened against a database of other foods. Products which have flavor components in common with the original ingredient are selected and retained. These matching products could be combined with the original ingredient. With this information on possible matches, a Foodpairing tree graph is built.
The essence of Foodpairing is to combine different foods that share the same major flavor components. Comparing the flavors of individual ingredients can result in new and unexpected combinations, such as strawberries paired with peas. This combination was adopted by Sang Hoon Degeimbre, the chef of L’Air du temps in Belgium.
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