20 Sep 2023

Our Changing World – The science of food pairing

From Afternoons, 3:35 pm on 20 September 2023

Everyone knows some foods go well with others.  

Tomato and basil, cheese and crackers, lime and coconut... yum. 

What about broccoli and chocolate? Or chocolate and blue cheese?

But while we know some combinations work well (and others just don’t) we're in the dark as to exactly why. Enter Dr Rebecca Jelley and Dr Danaé Larsen, two University of Auckland researchers looking for the secret recipe.

Dr Rebecca Jelley and Dr Danaé Larsen stand in front of a closed wooden door leading to a sensory laboratory. Both women are smiling.

Dr Rebecca Jelley and Dr Danaé Larsen outside their sensory laboratory. Photo: RNZ

Follow Our Changing World on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRADIO, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic or wherever you listen to your podcasts  

Food pairing theory works on a pretty simple chemical basis; foods that share more flavour compounds (mostly smell) will taste better together than foods that don’t. 

But there’s a big geographic and cultural hole in this theory. 

“Research has shown that there is this tendency for western cuisines to comprise recipes that are combining different ingredients that have shared these flavour compounds’, says Rebecca, a research fellow in the School of Chemical Science.  

Listen to the full episode on Our Changing World to find out why food pairing theory could be as full of holes as Swiss cheese, and what Rebecca and Danaé are experimenting with to fill the gaps.

The photo shows a small white cubicle with a serving hatch in the wall behind it. In front of the hatch sits an open laptop showing a programme for rating the test food, a head of raw broccoli, several cubes of dark chocolate under a glass cloche, and a small sealed box used for delivering the mystery test food to the subject while preventing them from either seeing or smelling it.

The panelist uses the small white box to eat an unknown test food while looking at the chocolate under the cloche. They then rate the food using the laptop. Photo: RNZ