Why Does Asian Food Taste So Different From Western Food?

By Jesus Diaz on at

Nature has published a fascinating paper that solves a seemingly silly, but very interesting question: why do Western and Oriental 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 Oriental 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 flavor compounds, or chocolate and blue cheese that share at least 73 flavour compounds."

However, since East 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, this "discovery of patterns that may transcend specific dishes or ingredients" may open new ways to cook.


How do flavours connect?

Why Does Asian Food Taste So Different From Western Food?

This graphic shows the backbone of the flavor network: "each node denotes an ingredient, the node color 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."

I can't wait to taste how cooks all over the world use this research to create new weird flavours for me enjoy. [Nature]

Image credit: Pizza from Shutterstock — Noodle from Shutterstock