I Used This Foodpairing Website to Try Out Molecular Gastronomy At Home

We’ve already established that I will try almost any combo of edible material, so why not back up my choices with science?
Publish date:
February 4, 2013
food, science, molecular gastronomy

I am all for using science to advance cooking and food, but molecular gastronomy loses me somewhere between liquid nitrogen ice-cream and blueberry powder.I really don’t want to eat olive oil “caviar.” I also don’t want to eat Nutella powder. Leave Nutella the fuck alone, guys.

A recent trend in food science involves pairing food based on their flavor compounds. For instance, parsley and white wine taste good together because they both contain 3-hexen-1-ol. So in theory, the more common compounds two foods have between them, the more you should put them in your mouth at the same time. This doesn’t really take other factors like mouth feel and appearance into account, but it is intriguing.

Heston Blumenthal, head chef and owner of The Fat Duck, is one of the major driving forces of this movement. This guy is already known for his weird flavor combinations. He makes a bacon and egg ice cream that I would love to try.

As a chemist (read: someone who somehow obtained a degree in chemistry and is allowed to splash around in acid and play with fancy instruments), I love the idea of using a GC-MS to figure out what foods I should eat together. We’ve already established that I will try almost any combo of edible material, so why not back up my choices with science?

There is a pretty serious article about the whole thing, where a couple of scientists are all “Hey guys, there’s a lot more to enjoying food than matching compounds. Also, Asian food is like the exact opposite of this.” There’s even this guy, Dr. Klee from my Alma Mater, who calls the whole thing “ridiculous.”

So, there’s that.

But there’s also this super gimmicky website by Sense for Taste that lets you select a food and then provides you with a molecular taste map. I would provide a screen shot of a map, but I’m pretty sure they would sue me. I selected “ginger” because my finger slipped when I was trying to click on “gin” and discovered that I should be eating ginger with French fries! WHAT A WORLD.

So I went (read: sent my husband) to McDonald’s, got some French fries, and grated fresh ginger on them. These were actually quite delicious. The greasy, salty fries help temper the aggressiveness of the fresh ginger. I would eat them again.

I also made a ginger butter to dip them in. That wasn’t as successful as I had hoped it would be. But it was not bad.

Note: It is also worth visiting the Sense for Taste website as it is terrifying and somehow German-looking.

One of the crazy combos I keep hearing about is roasted cauliflower with chocolate. The Daily Mail seems pretty sure it’s going to be in canapé form, where it’s straight-up roasted cauliflower dipped in chocolate. I’ve also seen it listed as caramelized cauliflower with cocoa. I thought it would be best to just try both.

First, I chopped up a head of cauliflower and put in a freezer bag with olive oil, unsweetened cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt. Then I shook it all around so everybody could get to know each other. The cauliflower looked dirty. But, like dirty dirty, as in actual dirt, not sexy bad naughty dirty.

Then I roasted that shit at 400°F for half an hour.

It pretty much just tasted like cauliflower. There was some cocoa flavor, but it wasn’t that discernible. I was not overly impressed.

So OBVIOUSLY I was supposed to dip the cauliflower in some dark chocolate, a la Daily Mail. I had some dark chocolate baking chips left over from the holidays, so I just melted those. Once they were melted, I dipped that cruciferous creature directly in.

It was fiiiiiine. It wasn’t abrasive or unpleasant, but it wasn’t something I’ll ever crave again. I made that guy I’m married to try it. He basically said the same thing. My mother tried it and said “meh.”

In all seriousness, I really prefer my peanut butter-onion-bacon-pickle sandwich to this. And though my FoodPairing Lite account won’t let me see what I should be eating with pickles (or peanut butter), I’m pretty sure pickles and peanut butter share absolutely no flavor compounds. I thought about upgrading to a full account, but two factors prevent me from doing so:

1. I’m super cheap.

2. They don’t tell you which compounds they are basing these flavor links on.

I would say that the gimmicky aspect has some bearing on my decision, but I would be lying. I love a good gimmick. One of my favorite bars is a super expensive speakeasy that is hidden in an apartment building. You have to have a password to get in and they scowl at you if you want vodka because the USA didn’t have vodka during the prohibition, dummy. AND I LOVE IT.

I actually recommend that you make your own FoodPairing Lite account and play around with taste map. It is kind of fun. This is pretty much how I think of this whole molecule pairing business; it is fun. It is not particularly useful for your average cook, or even your average chef.

I could see how the really advanced or the really bored might be able to use this to come up with truly original menu items, but some of these things have to be tweaked before they actually work together. In a list that was leaked from a workshop on the subject, pineapple and blue cheese are a suggested dynamic duo, BUT TAKE HEED: The ketones of the cheese must be at a specific level and who HAS the time?

What I’m saying is this: Pairing foods (and drinks) based on their molecular makeup is a really neat concept, and I’m sure this trend will yield some neat party foods for some rich people, but taste is too complicated an issue for this to be the only explanation in pairing. Texture, mouth feel, appearance, and culture all influence what we eat with what. I would also like to see this theory tested with children, or super tasters.

What do you guys think? Am I just ignoring progress? Am I the silly one here?