How Chemistry Is Predicting the Flavour Pairings of the Future

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Some tastes just go together beautifully: lamb and rosemary; tomato and basil; cheddar and digestive biscuits. But despite a new wave of molecular gastronomy, human imagination can only go so far—which is why scientists are developing computational chemistry techniques to predict the flavor combinations of the future.

Chemical and Engineering News takes a long, and very thorough, look at how the idea has progressed, but what you really need to know is that the concept is really gaining traction.

For proof that there's commercial interest in this science, one need look no further than a company called Sense for Taste. The company is creating new algorithms—which share major similarities with those used to find life-saving drugs and search for life on Mars—that combine information about fundamental flavour compounds to create new pairings.

But the move to using computers to predict flavor pairings originally sprang into being last decade when François Benzi, a Swiss chemist, started working with British chef Heston Blumenthal. They noticed that a lot of Blumenthal's more creative parings—such as pork liver and jasmine flower or white chocolate and caviar—shared basic similarities in flavour compound combinations, despite sounding radically different on the surface.

Inspired by Benzi and Bluenthal's work, organometallic chemist Martin Lersch decided to try his hand at using basic chemistry to predict flavor combinations. He focussed his work on pairing up aromatic compounds and, through publishing his work, his pairings have become a hit in the food blogosphere. His biggest success yet? Strawberry and cilantro.

Whether their work will be a runaway success, of course, is up for debate. Certainly one of its favoured recipes—almond sponge cake with poached banana, chocolate, and Heinz tomato ketchup ice cream—sounds like it could either be heavenly or absolutely disgusting.

But then, maybe that's the point. If computational power can be used to narrow down the infinite field or possibilities when it comes to flavor pairings, it frees up human time which can be spent tasting and tweaking. And that way lies a flavour combination more exciting—but equally as good—as chocolate and orange. Jaffa, mmm. [Chemical and Engineering News]

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