If you watched Ratatouille, there would have been one scene that would have stuck with you, whether you are a food lover or not. It is the scene where Remy explains to his brother, Emile, about the different combinations of flavours in food after he makes him taste cheese and grape.
And the common hypothesis goes that food tastes best when paired with ingredients that share the same flavour.
For example, blue cheese and chocolate have a lot of common overlapping flavour compounds, which when paired together, give a unique taste.
But this pairing is often only seen in western cuisine, and when it comes to East Asian cuisine, they tend to break the norms of overlapping flavours.
A study by Indian scientists from Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur revealed that Indian cuisine tends to breach the hypothesis that food with overlapping flavours tastes better.
In this research, the researchers began by downloading more than 2,500 recipes from an online cooking database– TarlaDalal.com. Researchers grabbed recipes from various sub-cuisines like Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, and South Indian, to accommodate the vast geography, climates, and cultures in the Indian subcontinent.
With this, the recipes amounted to 194 different ingredients. The researchers then created a flavour network in which ingredients were linked if they appeared together in the same recipe. The network was made that looked like this.
After this, the researchers wanted to find out whether the pairing of the food was positive or negative. Which means, if more ingredients shared flavour compounds, they would be categorised as positive whereas if they shared fewer or no flavour compounds, it would be a negative pairing.
What the researchers found was quite intriguing. Indian foods saw a strong affinity for negative food pairing. Not only that, but the strength of this negative correlation is much higher than any previously reported.
It was also observed that spices like cayenne pepper, bell pepper, coriander and garam masala, played a firm role in negative food pairing, making the flavours powerful. This was a phenomenon never seen before.
Speaking to MIT, Dr Anupam Jain, the research head, said, “Our study reveals that spices occupy a unique position in the ingredient composition of Indian cuisine and play a major role in defining its characteristic profile.”
Jain and his team of researchers suggest that this integration of strong spices occurred when there was a need of medicinal properties to be mixed with food. Where spices like turmeric and pepper acted as good anti-bacterials.
On this observation, the researchers say, “We conclude that the evolution of cooking, driven by medicinal beliefs would have left its signature on traditional Indian recipes.”
This type of evolution of Indian food, combined with the negative pairing of ingredients is probably why Indian food carries a unique signature. And as Remy said, imagine the possibilities of food combinations that one can taste!
So with this research, we now know why desi dishes are something we don’t get bored of easily!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)