The Flavor Network

Sebastian Ahnert
University of Cambridge

The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food-pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice. In light of this we also discuss a variety of datasets on food ingredients and flavour compounds, including chef-curated flavour pairings, aroma compound concentrations, olfactory detection thresholds, and olfactory receptor responses. These datasets can be combined using large-scale data analysis in order to provide a deeper understanding of the impact that shared aroma compounds can have on perceived ingredient compatibility.

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