The Magic Behind Food Pairings
October 9, 2012

Senses In The Mouth Influence Taste Perceptions

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

As more and more people venture to new restaurants and try out new cuisines, their palates become more attune to various flavors. They will rave about green tea with dessert or red wine with steak, both perfect combinations. Even though there has been the knowledge that certain foods pair well together, culinary connoisseurs chalked it up to a feeling more than anything scientific. However, recent research shows that the way food is perceived is based off of senses in the mouth.

The study, published in a recent edition of Current Biology, looks at the sensory spectrum. Specifically, the researchers aimed to look at the idea of a “balanced meal.” As such, the findings push people to take on a new perspective of the way food is consumed.

"The mouth is a magnificently sensitive somatosensory organ, arguably the most sensitive in the body," explained Paul Breslin, a researcher at Rutgers University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in a prepared statement. "The way foods make our mouths feel has a great deal to do with what foods we choose to eat."

The researchers believed that the study would showcase some different flavors. They hope that individuals will be able to understand the appeal behind salad dressing, such as the mix between acids and oils. As well, diners can grasp the reasoning behind having ginger paired with sushi or soda with burgers and French fries. With these varying flavor combinations, the scientists also wanted to look at how two flavors might oppose one another. According to the Los Angeles Times, an example cited in the study´s article is how a gourmand would sense a fatty substance from drinking water and eating steak but not feel the same effect while consuming steak along with a red wine.

Based on their findings, the team of investigators found that fat was slippery while wines could feel dry and rough in the mouth. They also discovered that weakly astringent brew can make people feel like there is an astringent taste following multiple sips; these astringent brews include items such as a grape seed extract, an ingredient of green tea, and aluminum sulfate. On the other hand, when consumed with meat, the astringent beverages counteracted the “slippery sensation” that accompanies fattiness. The scientists noted that the mouth naturally looks for a balance of flavors and this goal of maintaining a neutral palate of tastes could come in handy in keeping a healthy diet.

"The opposition between fatty and astringent sensations allows us to eat fatty foods more easily if we also ingest astringents with them," continued Breslin in the statement.

The researchers also proposed that items like fresh seeds and nuts could offer a certain appeal in pursuing flavors that do not overtake one another.

"These foods come both with their own fats and astringents in one package, so they may be self-balancing," concluded Breslin in the statement.