Flavour pairing of foods: a physical-chemical and multisensory challenge for health promotion

Wender L.P. Bredie, Mikael Agerlin Petersen, Ditte Hartvig, Michael B. Frøst, Jens Risbo and Per Møller
University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The practice of combining flavours to make foods more attractive and palatable is deeply rooted in culinary cultures across the world. In recent years, the combination of food flavours has received increasingly attention by the postulate on “flavour pairing” made by Heston Blumenthal and Francis Benzi. They proposed that if two foods share a proportion of flavour components in common, they will taste pleasant when eaten together. This concept was particularly interesting for chemists trying to understand the molecular basis for culinary successes but at the same time stimulated the broader thinking about multisensory effects in food pairing, e.g. in product development.

Even though the idea behind flavour pairing seems strikingly simple, it has been difficult to find scientific support for it. Firstly, synergistic hedonic effects in odour and taste mixtures have been rarely observed. Secondly, mixing of foods with flavour compounds in common, generally leads to dilution of these components thus weakening their sensory intensity causing hedonic effects that are difficult to predict. Thirdly, the context for creating flavour pairings has different purposes. In a restaurant novelty is important to let expectation and surprise merge into a state of excitement, whereas the liking response of the flavour pair is more important for foods sold in a grocery store.

The present paper reports on a series of sensory and instrumental studies including more than 90 food flavour pairings. No evidence was found for the original flavour pairing postulate. No hyper additive (synergistic) hedonic effects were found for any of the flavour pairings. The main hedonic effects were of a compromise or compensation nature. However, responses for novelty of the flavour pairs appeared to be mainly additive or hyper additive, indicating arousal rather than liking being a driver for flavour pairing. However, despite the lack of hedonic additive effects in flavour pairing, the results clearly indicated that the liking of less liked foods can be enhanced in a pairing with a well-liked food. This principle is particularly interesting to consider in the promotion of healthy foods that are less sensory palatable.

Further work on food pairing should continue with explorative studies identifying food pairs that are liked well when tasted together in situations with neutral expectations. Secondly, more rigid investigations of successful food pairs from sensory, physical and chemical standpoints are needed to create a better understanding of the food pairing principles. Thirdly, investigations into individual differences in perception of food pairs addressing sensory and cultural aspects are needed. A greater knowledge on food pairing may lead to new product development allowing the formulation of foods that are palatable and complex enough to promote healthy eating.