The Grapevine

Indian Food's Negative Food Pairing Is What Makes It Taste Superior To Other Cuisines, According To Study

Indian food
Indian computer scientists analyzed thousands of recipes to better understand why Indian food is so delicious. Rochelle/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two computer scientists think they’ve figured out why some of us would enjoy Indian food for dinner every night if we could.

Anupam Jaina, Rakhi N Kb, and Ganesh Bagler of the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur downloaded more than 2,500 recipes from popular online database TarlaDalal.com. The recipes derived from eight sub-cuisines, including Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, and South Indian, MIT Technology Review reported. And together, MIT added, the recipes contained 194 different ingredients.

The main purpose of this study was to put the food pairing hypothesis to the test. Food pairings can either be positive or negative, with a positive pairing meaning ingredients share “flavor compounds;” these ingredients are “more likely to taste well together than ingredients that do not.” Those ingredients are considered a negative food pairing, in which ingredients are “more the extent of flavor sharing between any two ingredients, lesser their co-occurrence.”

Put it another way: Negative food pairings are complimentary, but they don’t necessarily have those same flavor compounds. When accounting for recipe composition, flavor compounds, and food pairing patterns, researchers found “in contrast to positive food pairing reported in some Western cuisines, Indian cuisine has a strong signature of negative food pairing. Spices in particular play a critical role when it comes to Indian food.

“Among the top 10 ingredients whose presence bias flavor sharing pattern of the Indian cuisine towards negative pairing, nine were spices: cayenne, green bell pepper, coriander, garam masala, tamarind, ginger garlic pate, ginger, clove, and cinnamon,” the researchers wrote.

Spices in Indian food don’t just add color and flavor, but they’re also antimicrobial, as well as anti-inflammatory. Capsaicin, an active ingredient in cayenne, may be especially beneficial; studies show this spice can boost weight loss and longevity.

“The significance of spices in Indian cuisine is also highlighted by the fact that its recipes have many derived ingredients that are spice combinations,” researchers explained. “Archeological evidences have suggested to the fact that lentils, millets and spices, especially turmeric and garlic were used as ingredients in ancient Indus civilizations. We conclude that the evolution of cooking driven by medicinal beliefs would have left its signature on traditional Indian recipes.”

Researchers concluded understanding the power of negative food pairing could lead to new flavor combinations and Indian food recipes.

Source: Jaina A, et al. Spices form the basis of food pairing in Indian cuisine. Indian Institute of Technology. 2015.

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