Math Explains Why Indian Food Tastes So Good

Aadhya Khatri - Feb 23, 2020


Math Explains Why Indian Food Tastes So Good

The secret behind Indian food, what makes it so unique and so good, has recently been revealed by mathematicians

Indian food, with its exhilarating aroma and vivid flavor, is well-loved all over the world. The way spices are mixed and food is cooked usually create a real explosion of flavors and textures that can overwhelm anyone who gets the chance to sample it for the first time.

Indian food is often seasoned with a heavy dose of tamarind, cardamom, cayenne, and a wide range of other flavors. But they combine to form the base of what is so mouth-watering for many people.

Indian food math
Indian food is often seasoned with a heavy dose of tamarind, cardamom, cayenne, and a wide range of other flavors

The secret behind Indian food, what makes it so unique and so good, has recently been revealed. The mathematicians who made this discovery have analyzed over 2,000 popular recipes to find out cooking techniques that so familiar with Indians but at the same time, so strange to the rest of the world. And it does so at the molecule level.

Before we dive into the research and figure out this secret, let’s take a look at what flavors are and the way they interact with each other.

We know you can hardly contain your curiosity here but bear with us. To understand and appreciate the wonderful secret of Indian food, one must arm themselves with some key knowledge first.

Take Western cuisine for example. If you take randomly a dish popular in this part of the world and hold a microscope over it, you would discover an exciting but not so much surprising phenomenon.

In the Western world, like-flavor ingredients are often combined. Food chemists have broken them down to molecules to explain this trend. They said that different and precise flavor compounds would give off certain tastes.

Scientists have given these compound scientific names but the simplest is arguably acetal, which can be found in orange juice, apple juice, raw beets, and whiskey. Each food ingredient has an average of more than 50 compounds.

In 2013, Scientific American shared a chart showing the shared flavor compound of many foods as well as which pairings have the largest numbers of compounds.

Peanut Butter Indian food math
A prime example is roasted peanut and peanut butter, which is the pair with the most overlaps

A prime example is roasted peanut and peanut butter, which is the pair with the most overlaps. However, there are some pretty hard-to-predict pairs, like white wines and strawberries. Surprisingly, the sweet soft red fruits share less common flavor compounds with oranges, apples, and honey than with the liquor.

The Mathematical Analysis Of Indian Food

Chefs in Western countries prefer pairing ingredients with shared flavors. However, several Asian countries do not always adhere to this set of rules. As you may have guessed, Indian food is arguably the most powerful example of this trend.

The recipes the mathematicians used for this analysis can be found on TarlaDalal.com, a popular recipe-sharing site. What they did was to break these dishes into their key ingredients and analyzed how heavily and how often these ingredients have shared flavor compounds.

What they found out is that they do not often overlap.

Here is an example to help you better make sense of the research on Indian food. Say you have a theoretical dish with four ingredients below:

Indian Food math example
Say you have a theoretical dish with four ingredients

Each of these four ingredients has its own flavor compounds and a random pair of two might have some overlaps. For example, coconut and onion seem like two different things but they do share some flavor compounds, as shown in the diagram below:

Indian Food math coconut onion
coconut and onion seem like two different things but they do share some flavor compounds

In this way, we can create diagrams for each of these other combinations. In this example, six have overlapped:

Indian Food math overlaps flavors
we can create diagrams for each of these other combinations

These 2,000 recipes call for a total of 200 ingredients and the mathematicians have analyzed all of them in this way.

The result? Indian food tends to have fewer to no overlapping flavor compounds, a trend that sets it apart from many nations in the world.

The experts said that the number of shared flavors in Indian cuisine is unexpectedly lower than what they had expected. To put this in other terms, the more overlapping flavors two ingredients share, the less likely they are to appear in the same Indian dish.

This trend can be seen in some dishes more than others and the use of some specific ingredients seems to be the cause of this.

Several Indian food recipes call for spices with cayenne, the basis of green curry, massaman curry, and red curry. And whenever a dish contains cayenne, it is highly unlikely that it has other ingredients with common flavors. The same trend is true for garam masala, green bell pepper, and coriander, which are common in Indian food.

The hallmarks of Western cuisines, rice, bread, milk, and butter, are proven to follow just the exact opposite – they are pair according to how many overlapping flavors they share.

Indian Food Should Be Studied By All Chefs

An important takeaway from this analysis is the reason why Indian food is so good, which is the way ingredients are paired.

The country’s cuisine is complicated. An average Indian dish contains at least seven ingredients. All over the world, researchers have observed around 381 ingredients but 200 of them can be found in Indian cuisine. Spices are often what makes the difference. In every single dish, one spice combination can bring out different flavors.

Indian food spices math
ll over the world, researchers have observed around 381 ingredients but 200 of them can be found in Indian cuisine

Another possibility is that many Western scientists have been approaching what we eat from the wrong angle, as proven by what we have just learned from Indian food.

Pairing ingredients with like flavors might be a good strategy to achieve mouth-watering results, but that does not always hold true.

After all, as Indian food is loved and cherished all over the world, it is high time we study it more closely to discover more of its astonishing secrets.

>>> Math Rule Figure Out The Best Age To Get Married

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