The Art and Science of Foodpairing

Image of The Art and Science of Foodpairing: 10,000 flavour matches that will transform the way you eat
Release Date: 
October 1, 2020
Firefly Books
Reviewed by: 

The Art and Science of Foodpairing provides a fascinating, thought provoking, palette-teasing read for anyone interested in food.”

Weighing in at almost four pounds, this impressive book is definitely not a cookbook. However, anyone who cooks will find The Art and Science of Foodpairing engrossing. The book evolved from Foodpairing®, the huge internet data base created by chef Peter Coucquyt, bio-engineer Bernard Lahousse, and entrepreneur Johan Langenbick. These three Belgians are also the authors of this tome.

The science behind this book is complex, based on the importance of our sense of smell to the flavor of everything we eat and drink. Most people associate the flavor of their food with taste, yet all of us have endured tasteless food when we have a head cold. Eighty percent of the flavor of food comes from its smell. Our sense of smell is so sensitive, that we are able to differentiate at least one trillion different scents.

However, even trained professionals are not good at identifying odors. This book comes to the rescue by naming and cataloguing over 10,000 different food related smells, known as volatile organic compounds. These are then paired to create combinations of ingredients or recipes. As the authors state, “The premise that ingredients that share the same key defining aroma molecules taste good together is the scientific basis of our creative methodology.”

For this book the authors select 85 ingredients ranging from brie and cassava to doenjang and tequila. They break down each ingredient’s aroma profile and then suggest other ingredients, based on their profiles, to pair with them. You discover why classic, familiar combinations work so well and why surprisingly bizarre ones will, too. White asparagus and vanilla anyone? Or perhaps Chef Heston Blumenthal’s winning combination of chocolate and caviar, now a standard on his restaurant menu.

At first glance this book is daunting. There are intricate aroma wheels, where the size and thickness of the colors indicates the different intensities of the odors. Added to this are complex color-coded grids representing the types of aromas. Yet, as you become familiar with this approach, you understand which ingredients work together and why. Besides the complicated visuals, there are detailed sections on how we smell and perceive taste. There is also a guide on how to train and improve your sense of smell.

While the science is intricate and often overwhelming for the non-scientific reader, there is plenty of good, practical information as well. The origin and history of each ingredient is explained, and there are many useful facts. For example: why roasted cauliflower has more flavor than boiled, that chopping garlic changes its aroma, and the reason why your vinaigrette could end up bitter. As well, there are offbeat nuggets like why and how Nutella was invented.

There are no glossy food photographs and few recipes. Those recipes that do appear are represented by a graphic and an ingredients list. There are no quantities or method. The only exception is a recipe for making basil oil without using any basil at all. Other books have tackled the subject of ingredients pairing, but none of them with the amount of data and scientific rigor that these authors bring to this work. An excellent reference source, this book not only teaches, it sparks your creativity.

This is an ideas book, primarily written for food and drink professionals, yet the non-professional will learn a lot too. While you may not create an original recipe, you will at least be more willing to try one. The Art and Science of Foodpairing provides a fascinating, thought provoking, palette-teasing read for anyone interested in food.