Why Does Asian Food Taste So Different From Western Food?

Nature has published a fascinating paper that solves a seemingly silly but very interesting question: why do Western and Asian foods taste so different? After analysing 56,498 recipes the answer is in the way they pair 381 ingredients.

Why do they taste different?

According to the study, Western cuisines have a tendency to pair ingredients that share many of the same flavour compounds. East Asian cuisines, however, do precisely the contrary, avoiding ingredients that share the same flavour compounds. The more flavours two ingredients share, the less likely they would be paired together in Asian kitchens.

Why is this important?

This is the first time that a experimental study has confirmed what only was an hypothesis over the past decade:

This food pairing hypothesis has been used to search for novel ingredient combinations and has prompted, for example, some contemporary restaurants to combine white chocolate and caviar, as they share trimethylamine and other flavour compounds, or chocolate and blue cheese that share at least 73 flavour compounds.

However, since Asian food works by avoiding food pairs, their analysis also destroys the idea that flavour pairing is the only way to achieve amazing new plates. According to the study, "the discovery of patterns that may transcend specific dishes or ingredients" may open new ways to cook.

How do flavours connect?

This graphic shows the backbone of the flavour network: "each node denotes an ingredient, the node colour indicates food category, and node size reflects the ingredient prevalence in recipes. Two ingredients are connected if they share a significant number of flavour compounds, link thickness representing the number of shared compounds between the two ingredients. Adjacent links are bundled to reduce the clutter." [Nature]

Pizza by barbaradudzinska/Shutterstock -- Noodle by Arena/Shutterstock.

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