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Food Pairing and Sensors

20 Jan 2020

Food pairing is experiencing increased interest across a broader field. The usage of ingredients and foodstuffs in recipes has changed over the past years. Due to the trend towards naturalness or regionality, people are increasingly falling back on regional and seasonal products and are implementing resources more consciously. Old types and parts of plants that were hitherto neglected are being rediscovered and are the focus of innovative top cuisine, the recipes of which are being reformulated. The production conditions that are being changed for health-related reasons are facing the food industry with new challenges with regards to the themes salt, fat and sugar reduction as well as in terms of the reduction of undesired flavourings or bitterness. On the consumer side, conscious eating and the related enjoyment is applying to a wider target group. There is a stronger focus on sensory experiences and the unusual combination of ingredients that lead to a harmonious experience is in tune with the zeitgeist.

Foodpairing and sensor technology

Exhibitor GNT at ProSweets Cologne Copyright - © Koelnmesse GmbH, Harald Fleissner

Background, concept and development of food pairing

The definition of food pairing is based on the widespread assumption: The more common flavour components different foodstuffs display, the better they suit each other. The effect is even stronger, when the common aroma components also make up the respective main sensory components, i.e. the key aromas.

A successful food pairing occurs if the (sensory) experience of the combination of aromas is greater than the sum of the individual components, i.e. it has a synergistic effect - according to the theory.

The concept of food pairing not only comprises of key aromas as the basis for the combination, but also includes further aspects such as taste, texture, mouthfeel and trigeminal-active effects.

Food pairing for an optimum taste experience

According to the classic hypothesis, the application normally targets the "harmony" pairing concept, i.e. achieving an optimal pairing outcome by attaining the highest possible overlapping of the same aroma components. The following sources of information, which at the same time also offer valuable, practical support serve for the development of food pairing concepts and as a basis for food pairing experiments: The Volatile Compounds in Food (VCF) database: this enables the direct search for individual components, their threshold values and occurrence in foodstuffs. The FOODPAIRING® software: This constitutes a source of inspiration, because it not only displays individually matching foodstuffs with their overlap, but also depicts products comprehensively and sorts them according to season, national cuisines and aromas. However, in the case of both FOODPAIRING® and VCF no information is available regarding which ratio of the corresponding individual ingredients results in successful combinations. So, individual experiments are necessary.

Complexity, influential factors and sensory interactions

Many factors play a role in achieving a successful result, i.e. in what quality or in which state of maturity a product is available. Also a low concentration of an aroma component can already be sensory-active or dominant in a product. The aroma value constitutes the ratio of concentration to the respective perception threshold. However, in order to determine the aroma value, the threshold values in the respective solvent or the respective food matrix must be known.

The release of the (volatile) aromas occurs according to their specific processing, i.e. the physical cell disruption by cutting, the application of temperature or the solution behaviour (hydrophilic or hydrophobic characteristics of the aroma components) within the food matrix.

The food matrix details and the solubility and perception of the aromas vary individually and among others depend on the chewing behaviour, the movement of the food in the mouth or also the air circulation and the related retro-nasal transport of the aroma molecules to the olfactory mucosa.

The application of food pairing offers potential in the following sections: Substitution of raw materials, to weaken undesired stimuli/off flavours, sugar reduction and innovation/product development. However, the limited surveys and data turn food pairing above all into an experimental field.

Complexity in food pairing

Ingredients special event - Reformulation ProSweets Cologne Copyrights: Koelnmesse GmbH, Thomas Klerx

In the scope of the Ingredients special event and Guided Tours, which are organised in collaboration with the DLG, you will also receive insights into the live production of products from the sweets and snacks section using alternative recipes compared to conventional ones.

You can additionally visit the new Tasting Zone, where Sebastian Lege will also integrate alternative taste experiences and reduction strategies.

Further information on the theme food pairing and sensors can be found under the DLG Expert Knowledge at: https://www.dlg.org/de/lebensmittel/themen/publikationen/expertenwissen-sensorik/food-pairing-und-sensorik/


Christine Brugger, Dipl. oec. troph., Scientific Consultant for Sensors, author & lecturer E-mail , https://www.aromareich.ch

Contact partner of the DLG: Bianca Schneider-Häder, DLG Food Centre, E-mail  

Literature (selection):

  • Ahn, Y-Y. et al. (2011) Flavor network and the principles of food pairing. Sci. Rep. 1, 19 DOI:10.1038/srep001196
  • De Klepper, M. (2011) Food Pairing Theory - a European Fad. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Volume 11 (4) - Nov 1
  • Kort, M. et al (2010) Food pairing from the perspective of the ‘volatile compounds in food’ database. Expression of Multidisciplinary Flavour Science: Proceedings of the 12th Weurman Symposium, Interlaken, Switzerland
  • Møller, P. (2013) Gastrophysics in the brain and body. Flavour 2:8 DOI: 10.1186/2044-7248-2-8
  • Jain, A., N K, R., & Bagler, G. (2015). Analysis of Food Pairing in Regional Cisines of India. PLoS ONE, 10(10)