When I think about food pairing, I usually think about food and wine. There are common pairings that almost always work well, like a California cabernet and a burger with blue cheese, but the best moments are when I discover a perfect pairing that I didn’t see coming. It leaves me wondering what makes it work so well.

It's that equation that led researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur to look into how ingredients are paired in recipes, reports Technology Review. They downloaded more than 2,500 Indian recipes and computer analyzed the 194 ingredients the dishes had in common. They created a flavor network that showed where the flavor compounds in the Indian food ingredients intersected.

In the United States and Western Europe, foods that have many flavor compounds in common often are paired together in recipes. But researchers found that in many Asian recipes, particularly Indian ones, the opposite is true. Ingredients that don’t have flavor compounds in common are more frequently paired together — which explains why the flavors seem so exotic in comparison.

Researchers concluded that Indian cuisine is characterized by what they call "strong negative food pairing," and the common spices used in Indian cuisine enhance those negative pairings.

So what are  the practical implications of the findings?  

“Our study could potentially lead to methods for creating novel Indian signature recipes, healthy recipe alterations and recipe recommender systems,” said the researchers.

Perhaps Western chefs will take these findings as a challenge and choose ingredients in their own recipes with strong negative food pairings. I predict that we may just see negative cuisine as the next big thing. 

For me, the findings in this study also help to explain why I find the flavors of Indian food so foreign (no pun intended). Indian food isn't something I eat very often because I don't crave it. I now want to eat it regularly to see if I can develop a taste for it — maybe even a craving — and gain an understanding about negative food pairing along the way. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What makes Indian food taste so different?
The secret to that incredible flavor is pairing ingredients that don’t have anything in common.