Food pairing theory is the idea that the more aromatic compounds two foods have in common, the better they will taste together. Cheese and bacon, strawberries and chocolate, sage and onion. There are hundreds of combinations of foods that work superbly well together that we all know and love. But more recently, experimentative chefs have been pushing the boundaries to explore more interesting flavours combinations, and that’s how gems such as salted caramel, strawberry and basil, and chocolate and chilli became part of mainstream flavour pairings.
However, research into food pairing theory suggests that the flavour combinations we all know and love only really make sense for those of us in North American and Western European cultures. In fact, in Asian cultures, including India, they tend to avoid pairing ingredients with common flavours. Indian food breaks all the traditional rules of food pairing - the molecules in Indian food clash dramatically and many more ingredients and flavours are used compared to western dishes.
It’s fairly common knowledge that it is the spices in Indian food that define its unique characteristic, but further studies show that they are also the biggest reason why Indian food breaks all the rules of food pairing theory. In fact, the researchers go on to state that there is a strong negative food pairing pattern throughout Indian cooking. This means that not only do Indian recipes not contain ingredients with similar tastes, but they purposely push the boundaries by including contrasting ingredients with little or no shared flavours compounds.
Although the spices used in Indian cooking don’t seem to follow the rules of western flavour combinations, it’s exactly that rebelliousness that gives the dishes their strong, unique, and delicious flavours. We certainly aren’t complaining.