Indian food, with its mouth-burning spices, cardamom-scented curries, tandoori fried fish, vinegar-infused sorpotel, mind-blowing Hyderabadi biryanis', crisp and divine jalebis', Punjabi channa masala, warm and cushy gulab jamuns', is unlike any other cuisine in the world.
'Curry', 'tikka' and 'tandoori' are words that are often associated with Indian food and while they do reflect a bit of what Indian food is about, they're only a prologue to a very big, fat and interesting cookbook. Indian food has evolved through many generations, invasions, dynasties and experiments and has almost never been categorized under one umbrella.
For example, in Kerala, you'll find a lot of sea food along with chicken, pork and beef. Some commonly used ingredients are pepper, cumin, chillies, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric and of course coconut. Tamarind, unripe mango, lime juice, vinegar and curd are also used extensively. But when you turn to, say Punjabi food, you'll find that it's part vegetarian and part chicken (mostly). And also uses a lot of butter, desi ghee, garam masala, coriander powder, cumin and carom seeds.
A new study analysed over 2000 recipes from a popular food site and figured out what makes Indian food so unique and so delicious. The result of the study negates all previously held beliefs about Indian food being largely interpretational, and proves how it is in fact more scientific in its approach.
What big data has to say about Indian food
The report titled 'Spices form the basis of food pairing in Indian cuisine', published by three students from the Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur, reveals that it's the pairing of radically different (and not overlapping) ingredients in Indian food that makes it truly unique. It defies culinary logic of the West where flavours that are similar in nature are paired together.
Let's take a closer look at some of the report's key findings:
1. The recipes analysed use 200 of the 381 (approximately) ingredients from around the world with an average of 7 ingredients per dish and a maximum of 40.
2. Muhghlai recipes have more ingredients and all sub-cuisines have strikingly similar profiles.
3. Each ingredient is characterized by a set of chemical compounds which forms its flavor profile. The team got access to flavour profiles of all ingredients from previously published data.
4. Among the top ten ingredients whose presence bias flavor sharing pattern of the Indian cuisine towards negative pairing, nine were spices: Cayenne, green bell pepper, coriander, garam masala, tamarind, ginger garlic paste, ginger, clove, and cinnamon.
According to the report, 'Indian cuisine tends to mix ingredients whose flavors don't overlap at all.' This means that if a dish contains green bell pepper, it won't have any other ingredient with similar flavours in it.
The Last Bite
Researchers acknowledge that the study 'does not account for the fact that certain flavor compounds may undergo changes in the process of cooking.' But even then, there's a lot that one can learn from this study. Culinary logic suggests that similar flavours should be paired up but Indian food is an outstanding example of how radical flavours, when rubbed the right way could work together to create some delicious magic. This could pave way for some new and innovative recipes, both Indian and international, that won't just be bold, but also experimental.
With all that talk of creamy, dreamy and fiery Indian food, we're sure you're really hungry! So explore some mind-blowing Indian recipes right here and get cooking.
With inputs from the report 'Spices form the basis of food pairing in Indian cuisine'