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Delhi Wine Club
Food and Wine Match Matter of Mouthfeel

Posted: Wednesday, 10 October 2012 15:11

Food and Wine Match Matter of Mouthfeel

October 10: While it has been known that the Indian sikandri raan or lamb tikkas go well with a Shiraz or a full-bodied tannic Cabernet, the real reason was not studied scientifically - at least that is the explanation given by a recent study that it is the mouthfeel of the combination of the astringency in wine and fats in the meat that are yin and yang that give a balance in the mouth, even though the researchers have not explained why Indian vegetarian and spicy food made in fats is not a good match with these astringent wines, writes Subhash Arora.

Wine goes with cheese. Green tea goes with Chinese food. Pickled ginger enhances the taste of Sushi. Coke is a good match for burgers and French fries. Several such food combinations pair an astringent food which causes the mouth to pucker up with a fatty food that makes the mouth feel slippery.

But it’s never been clear how these pairings work though the kernel of this idea of pairing astringents with fats is found in gastronomies all over the world, according to Paul Breslin, an experimental psychologist at Rutgers University and Monell Chemical Senses Center, who studies taste perception.

One of the very important and positive characteristics in describing a wine is the mouthfeel and the balance it creates on the palate. In a report online on Monday in Current Biology, he and his colleagues go a step further and offer a new theory of food pairings that explains ostensibly for the first time how astringent and fatty foods oppose one another to create a balanced mouthfeel.

"The mouth is a magnificently sensitive somatosensory organ, arguably the most sensitive in the body. The way foods make our mouths feel has a great deal to do with what foods we choose to eat " Breslin reportedly says. "The astringent beverages indeed counter the slippery sensation that goes with fattiness. The opposition between fatty and astringent sensations allows us to eat fatty foods more easily if we also ingest astringents with them," he says.

Eating the oily food lubricates the mouth, making it feel slick or even slimy. Astringents and tannins in wine and green tea make the mouth feel dry, rough and puckerish. They do this by chemically binding with lubricant proteins present in saliva, causing the proteins to band together and solidify, leaving the surface of the tongue and gums without their usual coating of lubrication."We want our mouth to be lubricated but not overly lubricated," says Breslin."In our study, we show that astringents reduce the lubricants in the mouth during a fatty meal and return balance."

The researchers discovered that astringents have a stronger effect each time the mouth tastes them. For example, every time the participants took a sip of green tea, they perceived it to be more astringent than during the previous sip, thus indicating that the astringents were reacting more strongly with the lubricating proteins in their mouths upon each exposure. This growth in astringency is why, even though tea and wine have only a weak effect at first, sipping them throughout a fatty meal eventually enables the astringents to counterbalance the strong lubricating effect of the fat, according to the report.

A second experiment supported this conclusion. When the study participants alternated their sips of tea with bites of salami, the perceived slipperiness of their mouths (caused by the fat in the salami) gradually decreased as they took more sips. When they sipped water, by contrast, the slimy feeling in their mouths continued to build.

The importance of repeated exposure explains why we don't tend to gulp down the entire glass of wine in one go and then eat our meat. The study justifies the widespread use of astringent foods as palate cleansers.

This general principle of yin and yang food pairings goes part of the way in explaining gastronomy, but what about the specifics? Why do we pair sushi with pickled ginger rather than with a coke, despite the fact that they're both astringents? And why does cheese seem to taste better with red wine than with green tea? As Breslin put it, "Is there something to the idea that a particular astringent and a particular fatty food go together?"

The famous pairings could simply be cultural accidents — a matter of which foods were available in which regions. But Breslin said it's also possible that cultures have unknowingly worked out the most balanced pairings based on the chemical properties of the foods.

Despite the research, the mystery of gastronomy might still remain unresolved. Breslin has not demonstrated why the astringent cabernet may not be suitable for fish which is quite an oily food-or why it won’t go well with the Indian vegetarian food that has lots of fat but is no match for the astringency - or why the chilies in the food accentuate the tannins in the wine and the mouthfeel becomes even more spicy.

One hopes he and his team would be coming out with more answers and the gastronomical secrets would be unveiled. ‘The Real Reason Wine Goes with Cheese Revealed’, stares the article on LiveScience. Yet the study is unable to explain why certain cheeses go better with certain wines. In a recent visit to Vinea in Switzerland where I participated in a cheese and wine tasting with 7 local cheeses and 7 local wines, there were some excellent matches while others revolted in our mouths. One red wine was a perfect match with soft cheese, contrary to the common belief. It was a matter of mouthfeel, is what the artisan cheese maker explained, bringing us to square one. The problem was further compounded when the master cheese maker suggested that we eat the cheese till it is swallowed and then take the sip of wine.

Perhaps , the study would attribute it to the Swiss culture –or more specifically to Valais which has some interesting cheeses.

Subhash Arora



Niladri Dhar Says:

The study makes a lot of sense and confirms what is already known - that tannin elements in wine (or even tea) act as binders of grease and broken meat proteins. In food & wine pairing this acts perfectly as a palate cleanser, a reason small sips of wine throughout a meal makes the dining experience much more enjoyable. Try having a heavy dish like a rich Bolognaise or even our own Mutton Dum Biryani with and without wine and you will notice the difference. Cheers, Niladri

Posted @ October 13, 2012 13:10


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