Why Does Indian Food Taste So Unique?

Buffet of tasty Indian food. (Image: CC0 Public Domain)
Buffet of tasty Indian food. (Image: CC0 Public Domain)

I’m not the only person wondering this. Scientists from the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur also wondered what makes Indian food so unique. They chose and analyzed 2,500 recipes from TarlaDalal.com, a database of more than 17,000 Indian recipes, to find the answer.

Researchers Anupam Jaina, Rakhi N. K., and Ganesh Bagler discovered the key reason why, and it is all about how Indian recipes use the flavors, which is very different to what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture.

Indian shrimp Image :CC0 Public Domain

Indian curried shrimp. (Image: CC0 Public Domain)

While Western cuisines use ingredients that share “flavor compounds,” the Indian ingredients are the exact opposite. The Sept. 2013 issue of Scientific American has a chart that shows which foods share the most flavor compounds with others, and which food pairings have the most flavor compounds in common.

Peanut butter and roasted peanuts have one of the most significant overlaps (no surprise there). But there are connections that are more difficult to predict: strawberries, for instance, have more in common with white wine than they do with apples, oranges, or honey, wrote Roberto A. Ferdman for The Washington Post.

spices, indian, food, pepper,  Image: CC0 Public Domain

Indian whole spices. (Image: CC0 Public Domain)


“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,” the researchers wrote. “The more the extent of flavor-sharing between any two ingredients, the lesser their co-occurrence.”

There were 194 unique ingredients found in the recipes, and they were put into 15 categories. It was then they found that it was all about how the pairings and combinations of the spices made the Indian cuisine so different.

flavours, India, powder, spices, Image :CC0 Public Domain

Indian powered spices. (Image: CC0 Public Domain)

So in Western culture, we like to use common ‘flavor compounds,’ where in Indian culture it is the opposite.

The study stated: “Each of the spices is uniquely placed in its recipe to shape the flavor-sharing pattern with the rest of the ingredients, and is sensitive to replacement even with other spices.”

So in other words, don’t be tempted to use just a little bit more spice or replace it with a different one. Remember, sometimes opposites do attract. In case you missed the recipe site, here it is again.

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