This data-packed new book states on the jacket that it contains ‘10,000 flavour matches that will transform the way you eat’. Yet, given the highly technical nature of its approach and its rather involved subject matter, it might be better described as helping to transform the way people cook given that its appeal might be greater among chefs, for whom the art and science of pairing ingredients together is an everyday occurrence.
It’s worth stating from the start that this isn’t your typical food matching book - notwithstanding the fact that it contains such a huge breadth of flavour matches. With their book Peter Coucquyt, Bernard Lahousse and Johan Langenbick look in microscopic detail at food pairing using scientific research that combines neurogastronomy (how the brain perceives flavour) with the analysis of aroma profiles derived from chemical components present in foods.
Having created food tech company Foodpairing in 2007 the trio know their onions (and what pairs with them). Belgian chef Coucquyt worked for 13 years for Peter Goossens at his three-star restaurant Hof van Cleve before winning his own Michelin star with his hotel restaurant Kasteel Withof in Antwerp; Lahousse has a master’s degree in bioengineering and has worked as a researcher and developer in numerous food companies; and Langenbick is co-founder of companies including personalised drinks app MIX.LY. Together they have built the world’s largest flavour database, on which this book draws on.
The Art & Science of Foodpairing is divided into two main sections, an introduction that explores the various volatile organic compounds found in aroma, the role smell plays in flavour (olfaction versus gustation), and what it describes as the building blocks of flavour - lactones, esters, acids and alcohols to name a few.
Following that is the meat of the book that features 85 ingredients - from kiwi to oyster - and their suggested pairings using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyse and profile each aroma.
For each entry there’s an aroma wheel that is a visual representation of an ingredient’s unique aroma profile. Each wheel comprises two separate rings - an inner ring that displays the 14 different aroma types and an outer one that indicates the concentrations of the available aroma descriptors - such as fruity, floral, herbal, nutty, cheesy, spicy. This is accompanied by a pairing grid that lists 10 potential pairing ingredients followed by further grids that put key pairings under the microscope.
If all this sounds complicated - and there is an a lot of information to take in for each ingredient - then all is not lost. The book succinctly prefaces each ingredient in terms of its culinary use and properties and puts into words some of the most interesting findings, such as why cauliflower has less flavour when boiled rather than roasted; how to replicate basil oil without any basil; and why tequila can be used to make a quick ice cream. There’s also numerous invaluable pairing suggestions, from classic to potential ones to keep the reader inspired.
Running to almost 400 pages, few books offer as comprehensive a study into the science of flavour and aroma of ingredients, and few will be as useful for chefs looking for menu inspiration that goes beyond the norm.
Number of pages: 388
Self-indulgence rating: ✪
Must try pairing: Watermelon and anchovies
Publisher and price: Octopus Books, £30