Cooking is an art; some people are born with a natural talent while others have to learn and practice hard to develop their skills. But even the most gifted cook can find it difficult to create new and exciting flavor pairings.
If you’re stuck in a rut, or simply want to expand your culinary repertoire, this guide is for you. We’ll show you how to mix and match flavors like a pro, so you can cook up something truly delicious!
First, let’s talk about the basics of flavor combinations. There are five main categories of flavors:
By mixing and matching these flavors and the different types therein, you can create a seemingly infinite number of taste sensations.
Sweet flavors include things like sugar, honey, fruit and chocolate. Salty flavors include soy sauce, fish sauce, cheese and bacon. Sour flavors include lemon, lime, vinegar and yogurt. Bitter flavors include coffee, tea and dark chocolate. Umami is a more recent addition to the flavor wheel and includes savory ingredients like mushrooms, meat and Parmesan cheese.
When creating a new flavor combination, it’s important to consider the different types of flavors involved. For example, you wouldn’t want to pair a sweet ingredient with another sweet ingredient, as this would likely result in a cloyingly sweet dish. Instead, you would want to pair a sweet ingredient with a salty or sour ingredient to create a more well-rounded dish.
Different flavors combine in such a way that they can create altogether new flavor sensations—in a way they create something that’s more than the sum of their parts.
- When you pair chocolate with chili peppers, the sweetness of the chocolate is offset by the heat of the chili peppers, creating a flavor that’s both sweet and spicy.
- Another example would be pairing citrus fruits with herbs. The brightness of the citrus fruits complements the earthiness of the herbs, creating a flavor that’s both fresh and robust.
- Sweet and salty flavors often go well together. This is why many people enjoy pairing sweet fruits with savory meats or combining chocolate with bacon.
- Acidic flavors can also be a good match for sweeter ingredients. This is why citrus fruits are often used in desserts or why manchego cheese is often served with quince jelly.
- Umami flavors can also be a good match for sweeter ingredients.
When you’re cooking, it’s important to think about how different flavor compounds will pair together. You don’t want to simply throw ingredients together—you want to carefully consider which flavors will go well together.
As stated above, some people have a better knack for this than others, while some may need more practice. That said, no one is immune to the necessary trial-and-error processes that go into learning how to become a good cook. So give it a try and don’t be afraid to fail!
For a more in-depth understanding of flavor pairing, take a look at these charts.