Pairing white wine with fish is a rule of thumb that dates back decades for anyone hosting a dinner party.
Those really looking to impress also know that oysters should always be served with champagne.
But pairing food and drink is largely a marketing ploy, according to Professor Charles Spence, a psychologist and expert in the sensory qualities of food at the University of Oxford.
There are as many reasons to serve pilchards with champagne as oysters, he says, based on the theory that seafood contains the same amino acid that can enhance its savory “umami” flavor in combination with a bottle of sparkling wine.
He also challenged the popular suggestion that people should pair products from the same geographic region, such as Spanish Rioja paella and sauerkraut beer, for lack of evidence that their flavors work particularly well together.
Those really looking to impress also know that oysters should always be served with champagne. But pairing food and drink is largely a marketing ploy, says Professor Charles Spence
People who like to talk about complementary molecules in foods and drinks forget that these molecules and amino acids often make very little difference to the actual flavor, according to the expert.
He says that several red wines are perfectly fine to drink with fish, if their iron content is reasonably low.
The only possible reason to pair a certain wine with a certain food, he says, is to enhance the fatty texture of the meat by having a glass of red wine which gives more tingle in the mouth as it goes down.
In a scientific article on food and wine pairings, published in the journal Nature Food, Professor Spence writes: “Occasionally, specific food and drink products are paired for no other reason than the idiosyncratic whim of the person who recommend the match in the first place.’
While the pairing may be popular, he concludes: “It’s safe to say that our preference for specific foods, drinks and their combinations is based as much on trends, tradition, price and availability as on the underlying chemistry. flavors.”
The academic told the Mail: ‘People like to know the wine pairings, and it adds to their enjoyment of a meal, while perhaps allowing them to show their friends if they’ve cooked the magic combination. of champagne and oysters or a particular wine with their cheese platter.
“But these are just stories about food, because the volatile chemicals in specific wines and foods aren’t necessarily overpowering when it comes to flavor.
There are as many reasons to serve sardines in champagne as oysters, he says, based on the theory that seafood contains the same amino acid that can enhance its savory “umami” flavor in combination with a Champagne bottle.
“A pairing menu in a restaurant, with specific wines paired with different dishes, is often more expensive, and I don’t think it would make much difference if you reversed the combinations.”
The pairing article states that champagne and oysters can be put together simply because they are both now considered “luxury” and high-class items.
But consuming them together, according to some experts, leaves an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth.
The pairing has become so popular that even beer companies have gotten to work, recommending various craft beers to drink with particular pizzas or burgers.
More sophisticated types choose to serve trout with watercress in the UK, as the banks of the chalk streams where trout fishing took place would probably have also harbored watercress, growing under the same conditions as the fish.
But Professor Spence argued in a previous 2019 paper that: ‘At first glance, this correspondence does not appear to be based in any way on a perceptual affinity between the flavors found in trout and watercress from the standpoint of flavors or flavor pairings.
“Rather, it would simply seem like a convenience/availability fit that has become conventional, and therefore increasingly familiar to those in the relevant food culture.”
Pairing wine with a cheese platter, he says, is hit or miss, because cheeses have so many different flavors.
He told the Mail: ‘The only pairing that makes sense to me in terms of flavor is to avoid drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth because it goes really badly with toothpaste.’
Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal is well known for his love of unusual flavor combinations, such as caviar and white chocolate, but he suggested some approaches to combining them just don’t work, telling The Times in 2010: Almost embarrassed by my enthusiasm pretentious, especially because I now know that a database of molecules is neither a shortcut to a successful flavor combination nor a surefire way to do it.
“All food is made up of thousands of different molecules – the fact that two ingredients have one compound in common is a slim justification for compatibility.
“If I had known then what I know now, I probably would never have tried this method of flavor pairing: there are just too many reasons why it doesn’t work.”
Recipe: The ultimate baked potato
Tonia photographed every step of her Bloomin’ Baked Potato recipe. This is after the potato has been cut and brushed with olive oil and sea salt
1. First preheat the oven to 220C.
2. Cut the bottom of the potato so that one surface is flat and use a small knife to make rings around the inside of the potato.
3. Next, turn the potato over so it rests on the flat surface and make vertical cuts in the side of the potato. Leave a space at the top that is not cut. The cuts should go all the way to the center of the potato.
4. Brush the potato with olive oil and sea salt. Put the potato on a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
After an hour of cooking, your potato should look like this
5. Remove from oven and brush with olive oil and sprinkle again with sea salt. Put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
6. If desired, add grated cheese on top and cook for another five minutes until cheese is toasted and melted.
7. Remove from oven, top with crispy bacon slices and serve.