FLAVOUR PAIRING as a competitive tool. Now available for everyone, professionals and foodies.


By Berta del Barrio

For the food industry, molecular gastronomy, and even for the use of foodies at home, “flavour pairing”, or predicting similarities between aromas, is a good source of information for creativity and developing surprising new combinations. It can also be applied to both food and drink, including cocktails, as well as potential combinations when serving particular food and drink together. This tool is no longer just for a chosen few. It enables us to awaken our hidden creativity and get back to updating our menu as a competitive tool.

From a technical point of view, the method is based on analysing the aromatic composition of a particular product. This aromatic composition will include a number of aromatic notes which prevail, as well as others which, although we can’t pick them out by “smell” alone, add to the overall aroma of the product. And the aroma of a product is the main source of our tasting experience. Working on the aroma of any combination of ingredients is therefore a good way to find pleasant and even surprising results.

The method revolves around analysing the aromatic composition of the products we are interested in. By using a data analysis tool and mathematical algorithms, the aromatic structures of the products are later compared and this gives us the input as to whether that pairing adds up to or takes away from a pleasurable end result for the customer.

There are currently a number of different sources available on the market which explore flavour pairing applied to cooking: books such as Taste Buds and Molecules by Françoise Chartier (2012), The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit (2011), or The Flavor Bible (2008) and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible (2014) by Karen Page; and apps like Foodpairing and Chef Watson (from IBM). There are also scientific articles, such as:

– Y. Ahn, S.E. Ahnert, J.P. Bagrow and A. Barabási (2011): “Flavor network and the principles of food pairing”. Scientific Reports 1, Article number: 196. doi:10.1038/srep00196

– David Rowe. (2002). High Impact Aroma Chemicals Part 2: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Perfumer & Flavorist, vol. 27.

Besides, various methods allow to create tempting flavour combinations. The first way that immediately comes to mind through common sense is based on the main aroma of the product, and looking for other products that have the same prevailing aroma, such as strawberry and chocolate, for example.

But there are other different ways of finding a flavour pairing. This subject is very interesting, because flavour pairing is a tool which chefs and foodies can use to develop their creativity and find innovative and tasty combinations, despite the fact that it is based on science. Furthermore, the food culture of the people who taste the combination will always have an influence, as well as whether or not they have had prior exposure to certain aromas.


These other ways of playing with the aromatic structure of products could be based on combining similar aromas in different products, even when they are not the prevailing aromatic notes. It may well be that a good result is related to a higher number of pairings, or a greater “depth” in the most pleasant/surprising combination of aromas, or is even achieved by combining products whose aromas cause a similar neurological response in the brain.

Francesc Montejo, Director of Inn Flavours, touches on a few of the many examples available, citing suitable pairings for elements with similar aromas. These include “Sauvignon Blanc wine and food that has been seasoned with herbs and spices with a hint of aniseed, such as fennel, or the surprising positive synergy between three foods as different as chocolate, coffee and roast beef, but which strangely have a very similar aromatic nucleus in terms of their chemical structure. In the case of the latter, the brain has a similar neurological response to each of those three foods, with adjacent areas of the olfactory bulb being activated. As far as Sauvignon Blanc is concerned, it shares a certain structure with the aromatic composition of particular aniseed-flavoured herbs, which means that the pleasurable sensation is enhanced when this type of substance is paired with this white wine.”

The rapid rate at which technology is developing all around us means that, in the not-too-distant future, tools based on cognitive computing will even enable us to give the tool feedback about whether or not the pairing is to our liking… or that of our customers… and allow it to learn accordingly, so that the application becomes increasingly “smarter” and tailored to our vision of gastronomy.

In any event, a tool will always be just that – a mere tool: mastery in cooking, product knowledge and the culinary know-how of the user make all the difference. In fact, working with an aroma expert brings so much more to the table, regardless of whether we have flavour pairing tools. For Francesc Montejo, “an aroma expert has a wealth of expertise which enables them to employ technology to analyse aromatic principles, extensive knowledge in the creative art of the aromatic composition of foods, as well as knowledge about the basic rules of composition, such as building the flavour pyramid and including the positive and negative synergies between foods. Their contribution when it comes to designing sensory analysis tests can also turn out to be immensely helpful, in addition to their knowledge of brain mechanisms related to how we perceive aroma and flavour molecules.”

Sources and links of interest:

Smell a fragrance: Anatomy of emotions. Francesc Montejo. http://innflavours.es/blog/?p=660&lang=en

“Flavor network and the principles of food pairing” (2011): Y. Ahn, S.E. Ahnert, J.P. Bagrow and A. Barabási. Scientific Reports 1, Article number: 196. doi:10.1038/srep00196




Food pairing diagrams:




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