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Mouthfeel Behind Why Certain Foods Pair WellMouthfeel Behind Why Certain Foods Pair Well

October 9, 2012

3 Min Read
Mouthfeel Behind Why Certain Foods Pair Well

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.Have you ever wondered why a nice glass of wine pairs well with a perfectly cooked steak? Its all about mouthfeelthe sensations caused in the mouth by the physical and chemical interaction between the mouths tissues and saliva and the chemicals found in food, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists at Rutgers University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center who study the way food feels in our mouths said the astringent wine and fatty meat are like the yin and yang of the food world, sitting on opposite ends of a sensory spectrum. The findings offer a whole new definition of the balanced meal. They also offer a new way of thinking about eating habits, both good and bad.

The mouth is a magnificently sensitive organ, arguably the most sensitive in the body," said Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center. The way foods make our mouths feel has a great deal to do with what foods we choose to eat."

The researchers knew that astringent wines feel rough and dry in our mouths, while fats feel slippery. The researchers started with the hypothesis that astringency and fattiness were on opposite ends of a continuum, like hot and cold. The researchers asked volunteers to sample fatty foods, alternating with sips of weakly astringent liquidin this case, alternating tea with salami. For the study, participants alternated between tea and salami. They also were asked to sip tea without tasting the salami. Participants were then asked to rate the level of fattiness, or slipperiness, they felt in their mouths, and the level of astringency, or drynessthe rough, puckering sort of mouthfeel caused by the interaction of astringent chemicals in the food with lubricating proteins in the saliva and mouth tissues.

They found that the subjects felt more astringency in their mouths as they kept sipping, but the this feeling reached a limit based on the chemical composition of the drink. This is why, in wine tasting parties, they dont just have you sip wine after wine, but give you something fatty like cheese, crackers, cold cuts in between tastings," Breslin said.

This natural tendency to seek balance in our mouths might have benefits for maintaining a diversity of foods in the diet. The opposition between fatty and astringent sensations allows us to eat fatty foods more easily if we also ingest astringents with them," he said. It might also explain why similar yins and yangs exist in many different gastronomies."

He noted these types of pairings are very common in various cuisines. In traditional French gastronomy, for example, besides having wines between meat courses, you might have a sorbet to cleanse your palate of the taste of one course and get you ready for the next. In Japanese gastronomy, it might be ginger along with sushi. And most salad dressings are a mix of something fatty with something astringent, like oil and vinegar," Breslin said.

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