What makes Indian food, with its melange of spices, curries, and complex flavor pairings so delicious? According to scientists, it’s the lack of overlapping tastes in a dish’s ingredients.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Jaipu, India, analyzed thousands of popular Indian recipes on TarlaDalal, which is one of the most extensive online repertoires of original Indian recipes, with recipes for more than 17,000 dishes. And found that on a molecular level, there’s a different flavor principle that is applied that’s different from that of Western cuisine.
In the study, the scientists examined the recipe composition as well as flavor compound constitution of the Indian cuisine in search of its quintessential features.
“We found that average flavor sharing in Indian cuisine was significantly lesser than expected,” the researchers said.
As the Washington Post observes, science shows a tendency of Western dishes to be built on similar or closely related flavors, but in Indian dishes, the recipes are all about contrasting flavors. In fact, many Asian cuisines show a tendency of favoring dishes that do not have overlapping flavors.
“We study food pairing in recipes of Indian cuisine to show that, in contrast to positive food pairing reported in some Western cuisines, Indian cuisine has a strong signature of negative food pairing; more the extent of flavor-sharing between any two ingredients, lesser their co-occurrence,” the researchers wrote.
So, if a dish contains cayenne pepper, a popular component of curry recipes, there’s an unlikely possibility of it also having other ingredients with similar tastes. The same was found with other ubiquitous Indian spices like coriander, garam masala, tamarind, ginger, and green bell pepper. This find is something that the researchers came across in the eight Indian sub-cuisines — Bengali, Gujarati, Jain, Maharashtrian, Mughlai, Punjabi, Rajasthani, and South Indian.
“Each of the spices is uniquely placed in its recipe to shape the flavor sharing pattern with the rest of the ingredients,” noted the researchers. In other words, each ingredient emits its own flavor compound.
Thus, the reason why Indian food is found to be so insanely delicious is simply because of the way the flavors are paired. And since the average Indian dish contains at least seven ingredients, it’s quite an intricate feat to blend all the ingredients and spices together to create a single unique-flavored dish.