What Makes Food Delicious?

Analysis of flavors in a recipe

Fat. Sugar. Salt. But what if you’re trying to improve the nutritional value of your food and want to get away from those appetite-whetting ingredients? One of the best ways to make food delicious without undermining its nutritional value (or encouraging overeating) is spices. And few (possibly no) traditions have as sophisticated a spice palate as India.

Indian food is celebrated around the world. Its remarkable appeal has been extolled for centuries and deeply analyzed recently at the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur. Their conclusion was, generally, that Indian foods tend to combine contrasting flavors to establish their overall taste (whereas other cuisines tend to blend “positive” flavor combinations, with more overlap). Scientific American lets you explore some of these flavor relationships in a lively infographic.

Whoa. Complicated. What does this mean for me?

There are a few staple dishes that are easy to prepare in batches and portion out for bring-from-home lunches and easy-prep healthful dinners. They generally involve simply prepared vegetables, beans, or grains like couscous, and chicken. It’s a running joke among athletes that chicken gets particularly dull, and spices are an easy way to … spice all this food up. This could be as simple as marinating your chicken breasts in your favorite salad dressing, and once that’s predictable, too, there’s a big world of Indian spices out there that can give your food a new lease on delicious. Indian cuisine is vast and varied, but just beginning with a few of the basic flavor combinations can give you a nice introduction to what makes it so good. (Real Simple also offers a starter checklist for basic Indian flavors.)

Illustration of a computation from research at the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur, discussed at the Washington Post.

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