The sciency science of Indian food

The lure of Indian food and its lip-smacking diversity is well-known. If you ask any Indian living abroad, it’s perfectly possible that he/she confesses missing the food more than their own family! Can you guess the reason, after all?

On an average, a food ingredient has over 50 flavour compounds. In fact, scientists have come up with a Flavour Map that you can explore to come to a scientific decision on how to pair up your foods.

The general idea is to pair up food items based on the number of flavour compounds they share. As an example, wine and cheese go very well together and the reason can be understood in the following snippet of wine and cheese flavour map, as they have a lot of flavours in common:


Each blue dot represents a food and the size of a dot shows how popular the food is. A line connecting the two dots means the two foods share at least one flavour-related chemical compound. Moreover the more flavour compounds they share, the thicker the line. Also the grey line connects food in the same category and the vertical position of a food reveals the total number of other foods that connect to it. I highly encourage clicking on this interactive Flavour Map link to grasp this concept better.

Now that you have got the hang of this, I am going to break the secret of Indian food to you, according to a recent research.

Indian food does not follow this general rule. Foods at the top of the page share flavour compounds with many other foods. Foods at the bottom of the page are completely unique — they don’’t share flavours with any other foods. You can see that the most prominent ingredients of Indian food, such as clove, onion, tomato, cumin, yoghurt, lemon juice, sesame seed and many more lie close to the bottom of the chart.

Thus the average flavour sharing of ingredients in Indian food is significantly lesser than expected. Moreover the final quality of Indian food that differentiates it from western cuisine is its complexity.

An average Indian recipe calls for over 7 ingredients with moderate to low flavour overlap, and Indian food makes use of over 200 distinct ingredients out of the roughly 381 ingredients observed around the world. That’s what make Indian food unique and for Indians, so uniquely delicious.

77 thoughts on “The sciency science of Indian food

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  1. I found (by accident) some people cooking in an Indian village on Youtube. I ended up binge watching, and falling in love with the people. I like the “happy dance” of the two little girls when they taste the food. I then cooked a couple of those recipes and MAN! it was so tasty that I am adjusting my ways of cooking & eating. Even my daughter, who doesn’t like fish, says it was soooo good. Now I keep an eye on my “new” ingredients.

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  2. Thank you for this! I love cooking and I cook a lot of Indian food (mainly dal and Keema to the delight of my son). And a meal would not be a meal without Basmati rice! I also make my own Nan. I lived two years in Delhi and I loved the food, especially in the Old City. But my love for Indian food started way before! thanks again. Kenza.

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    1. Oh yes! No place serves food like Old Delhi. I am so glad you have tried it and liked it. It is one of our greatest prides and joys! I am glad you have learnt cooking Indian food so well that you are able to prepare naans. It is one tough nut to crack.

      Cheers to the love of food ❤

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  3. This is a great article. No wonder, Indians find it hard to get used to other cuisines! I like other cuisines but only when they have lot of ingredients and flavours !

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  4. I am not Indian, but I start to love Indian food when I worked part time in an Indian restaurant during my university years. The types if different curry, the palak paneer (love this one best!), the cottage cheese are all sooooo wonderful.

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  5. Thank you for the very informative post. I love Indian cooking…you should have seen my family’s reaction when I brought home asafoetida for the first time. Yikes, that is some smelly stuff!! Who would think it could taste so amazing…it almost deserves a post unto its own. Lol

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