Introduction: Flavor Pairing Test

About: I'm a 49 year old Systems Architect living in the Midwestern United States. After travelling the world for 20 years as a consulting architect I became disabled, as a result, I am now embracing a Slow life. F…

One of the things I pride myself on as a foodie is my ability to pair flavors well. Whether it is seasonings in a stew, cheeses and meats, or just hot sauces on pizzas. I manage this by turning some meals into basic flavor pairing tests to gain experience with different flavor combinations. Today I would like to share with you how to do a very basic one of these tests.

All you need are 3-4 pieces of a common food whose flavor you know well. In the picture above, I am doing two tests simultaneously. The first is with plain cheese pizza, while the second is with boneless fried chicken. The pieces should only be big enough for 2-3 bites, beyond that, your ability to distinguish flavors decreases dramatically. What we will be testing are the four hot sauces above, which represent very different hot sauce flavors. From left to right:

What I am hoping to find out is which ones pair well with pizza, and which with fried chicken. I do this by putting a little sauce by itself on a piece, then doing the same for each sauce. I then make a list of each combination and leave room for tasting notes.

I use a palate cleanser in between each sampling. Some people use a sip of water, others a cube of bread or a cracker. However, my secret weapon palate cleanser is one used in Japan...gari. Gari is simply pickled ginger, and while that may sound strange, on your taste buds it feels like you just brushed your teeth but with no aftertaste. You can get gari at any Japanese grocery store or at the sushi counter of your local grocery store, if they have one.

Another preference of mine is not to go back through the pairings, I only taste each one once. The reason being, especially in the case of hot sauces, that the heat of one can affect your ability to taste the others, so when pairing hot sauces, I always go least hot to most hot. After I have tasted all four on a particular food (for example, the pizza above), I rank them based on my notes. I never go back and change rankings, because typically your first instinct is your best.

Here are some of my notes from this tasting (with the product names omitted).

  • "Pizza muddles the sauce flavor"
  • "Subtle heat and flavor addition to chicken"
  • "Made for fried chicken!"
  • "Totally dominates pizza flavor and replaces it"

If you enjoy cooking, and creating your own dishes and recipes, I highly recommend you start testing pairings. The easiest one to start with is testing Italian bread with 4 different olive oils, and it is also great fun at parties.

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