Nothing is Impossible

A new cooking trend has been emerging in private kitchens around the world: foodpairing. It refers to combining foods that do not typically go together into new dishes. Johan Langenbick, Co-Founder of the online database Foodpairing®, explained to us that there is more to this than mere culinary experimentation.

Various vegetables spread on the table

Johan Langenbick Co-founder of the Internet database Foodpairing

Johan Langenbick, Co-Founder of the online database Foodpairing®




Mr Langenbick, is it true that veal goes well with white chocolate?

You may be surprised, but veal and white chocolate really is a good combination. They share a lot of key aromas.
Does that mean that they have similar flavours?

Yes. At this point, I should explain how we experience flavour. There is a widespread misconception that we only perceive aromas in our mouth, on the tongue. In reality, as much as 90 per cent of our sense of taste comes from the scent of the food we eat. We may not be aware of it, but the olfactory receptors in the upper part of our nose detect even the smallest aromatic compounds. These compounds, which we call the ‘primary aromatic compounds’, are crucial in our perception of flavour. White chocolate and veal share a number of primary aromatic compounds, so they harmonise well.

You have been exploring the concept of foodpairing professionally since 2009. How is it different from conventional experimenting in the kitchen?

Foodpairing is not experimental. The concept is backed by solid science. At Foodpairing®, we take advantage of the significance of scent in experiencing flavour. We combine foods that share the same aromatic compounds. This yields new combinations which may have seemed inconceivable on cultural and traditional grounds.

How do you work out which ingredients go together?

At first, we use gas chromatography to isolate the individual aromatic compounds of a single type of food. In most cases, this process also involves mass spectrometry. We then identify the main aromas that determine how we perceive the flavour of the food. Humans cannot detect every single aroma. Most substances are only present in extremely low concentrations, and our nose simply cannot identify them. They are below the odour detection threshold. Only aromas which exceed that threshold shape the flavour we experience. We use these aromatic compounds, of which there may be up to 40 at once, to create a flavour profile for each individual type of food. These profiles are the foundation of our database.

And chefs, bartenders and private cooking enthusiasts can use them, too?

Exactly. Foodpairing® offers a starting point to anyone who wants to create a new recipe. A chef may enter an ingredient into our database, for instance. Based on shared primary aromatic compounds, the underlying algorithm puts out all possible pairings. The more compounds two ingredients share, the better they will harmonise with each other. This system yields some very surprising combinations – such as veal and white chocolate, for instance. Now, it all comes down to the chef’s creativity. To create a harmonious dish, he or she needs to strike the perfect balance between aroma, flavour and texture. If this is not done well, the combination won’t work. After all, flavour and texture make up around 20 per cent of our enjoyment of a dish. Sang Hoon Degeimbre, the Chef de Cuisine at L’Air du Temps in Belgium, for example, has firmly established the combination of strawberries and peas in his restaurant.

Foodpairing graphic shows how food ingredients can be combined

Aside from producing innovative dishes, what can Foodpairing offer the restaurant industry?

In the long term: profit. Adding new flavours to a menu is an economic method of attracting new customers. Chefs can sell exciting, new combinations at higher prices. Foodpairing also highlights ways of replacing expensive, imported products with local and seasonal ingredients to create similar or better dishes. This saves time and money.

Finally, may we have some expert advice? What do we absolutely need to taste? And what is best avoided?

I recently tried a delightful rhubarb, black tea and strawberry ice cream with some caramel on top. You can’t miss that one. Garlic and chocolate, on the other hand, I would give a miss. Although they do say that it works brilliantly combined with coffee...

About Foodpairing®

In 2009, Product Designer Johan Langenbick, Food Engineer Bernard Lahousse and Chef de Cuisine Peter Coucquyt founded the digital aroma database Foodpairing®. The idea behind it: creating a virtually endless number of new flavours by combining various types of food on the basis of scientific and digital insights. According to its owners, Foodpairing® currently contains flavour profiles for 3,500 ingredients. Half a million food professionals in 125 countries used the portal. In 2020, a book about Foodpairing® and the science behind it will be published, and the website will become interactive. This is intended to give users an opportunity to interact through a social platform.

Here you will find more information about foodpairing.

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