Research Press Release

Food science: Kitchen chemistry

Scientific Reports

December 16, 2011

Food science: Kitchen chemistryDOI: 10.1038/srep00196North American and Western European recipes are more likely to use ingredients composed of similar flavour compounds than those from East Asia and Southern Europe. The study, which is published in Scientific Reports, uses the quantitative tools of network theory to analyze the ingredient combinations of over 50,000 recipes. According to the food-pairing hypothesis, two ingredients are palatable together if they are composed of similar flavour compounds. This theory is sometimes exploited by chefs, such as Heston Blumenthal, in molecular gastronomy but it has not been tested systematically. Sebastian Ahnert, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and colleagues built a ‘flavour network’ of 381 food ingredients and the 1,021 flavour compounds known to contribute to the flavour of each ingredient. The more flavour compounds shared by two ingredients, the stronger the link between them in the network. The authors then analyzed the ingredient combinations in recipes from three online depositories — two based in the US and one Korean — to investigate whether there were any statistically significant differences between the cuisines in different geographical regions. They found that the food-pairing hypothesis appears to be valid in North American and Western European cuisines, which tend to prefer ingredients that share flavour compounds. But other regional cuisines, such as those from East Asia and Southern Europe, tend to systematically avoid flavour-compound-sharing ingredients. Data-driven network analysis methods have been of great use to certain fields of biology and the social sciences in recent years. This work suggests that network theory can now produce new insights in other areas, such as food science.


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