Pairing Food & Drink
Ellie, Head of Tastebud Relations at Forest Road Brewing explain why beverages are an essential accompaniment to food.
What if I told you, you can only taste 5 things?
Just 5. Sweet, Sour, Salt, Bitter and Umami.
These are what are known as the ‘basic tastes’. Receptors on the tongue engage with the chemical compounds responsible for these flavours, and trigger their perception in your brain. But, if this is true, how is it that we enjoy the wide and exciting range of flavours that come from our food and drink every day?
The answer is that it’s actually receptors in your nose, or more accurately your olfactory epithelium (the primary layer of skin that covers your nose and throat) that are doing the work when it comes to the full perception of flavour. Try it yourself – hold your nose – and take a bite of something delicious. Chew for a while. Then let go of your nose – and feel the full picture of the flavour come to life. That’s all very nice, I hear your brain whir from the other side of the screen, or page, but why the science lesson? Well knowing that its actually your nose that gives the perception of flavour – is the key to understanding how to pair food with drinks. For the flavour compounds in our food to interact with the nose, they need to get out of the food you’re chewing, and into the air of the nasal cavity. This is known as volatilisation. The movement of a molecule from a solid phase to an airborne phase. Mixing food with liquid (eg drinks) speeds up this movement. Mixing food with alcoholic drinks, due to alcohol’s function as a solvent, speeds it up even more.
So now we understand why alcoholic drinks can enhance the sensory (as well as the emotional!) experience of a meal. However, I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced a flaming-sambuca shot to wash down a delicately spiced curry is the way to go? Of course, the beverage you choose to pair your meal with, unless it’s water, will add some flavour compounds of its own into the mix. Working for a brewery, I am, a teeny, little, tad, biased. But beer is a wonderful beverage. Not only do you get complexities of flavour from the variety of malt, hops and even water that you use, you also get layers of flavour from the yeast strain and conditions you use to ferment the beer. So when it comes to pairing with food, the options are endless.
To narrow it down, let’s think about what you might be cooking up after receiving your Oma course and see how you might go about choosing what to pair your meal with…
Korean food is notorious for being an engaging eating experience and activating sweet, sour, spicy and salty notes all at once. Because there is a lot of complexity in the dishes and probably some already juxtaposed (in a good way) flavour notes – the role of the beverage is to work with the food, rather than providing a contrasting flavour.
Beer is an ideal candidate for this as many of the flavour notes from the fermentation of the beer can also be found in the fermented elements of Korean foods, such as kimchi or doenjang (fermented soybean paste). We get a double ‘hit’ of these flavours intensifying the sensory experience. The flavour compounds originating from fermentation are often responsible for activating receptors on BOTH our tongue (umami flavour notes) and our nose (meaty, sulphurous flavour notes), so again, the sensory experience is intensified, but remains harmonious.
Suggested Pairing: Forest Road, Work IPA. Robustly flavoured IPA with both hop and malt character. Bold body to accompany the engaging sensory experience of Korean dishes.
North Indian Cuisine
The sensory experience of North Indian food tends to allow for one primary flavour component, supported by more subtle, nuanced flavour notes. Eg a Tadka Dal, which has it’s rich, earthy, spiciness just tempered with the fragrant freshness of coriander or curry leaves. In this case, the beverage’s job is to elevate those nuanced flavour notes, and to re-set the palate between mouthfuls so the main flavour of the dish does not become saturating.
In this case, you’ve guessed it, beer is a great pairing. But this time for a different reason. Crisp, prickling carbonation bubbles can sweep over the tongue and allow all the flavour compounds from the food to volatalise, interact with the nasal cavity, and be perceived in the flavour. Next, subtle fragrances or citrus notes coming from the hops can cut through spice, oil, and flavour build-up to refresh and re-set the palate for the next delicious bite.
Suggested Pairing: Forest Road, POSH Lager. Delicately flavoured lager, with hints of citrus and the ultimate crisply bitter finish. Light enough to elevate delicate flavours, fresh enough to re-set the palate.
by Ellie Woods