60-Second Science

Food Pairings Rely on Mouth-Feel

Red wine goes with steak and soda with a burger in part because the astringent feel and the fatty feel balance out in our mouths. Gretchen Cuda Kroen reports

Red wine goes with steak, oil with vinegar, coffee with cream. But have you ever wondered why these pairings taste so good together? Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center think they know—and it has little to do with flavor. Instead the scientists think it’s about the way the different foods feel in your mouth.

Astringent foods like wine, vinegar, coffee and tea make your mouth feel dry and rough. But when paired with something fatty, like steak, oil or cream, the slippery feeling balances out the dryness. Researchers say these astringent-fatty pairs are like the yin and yang of the food world, and we eat them together because they create a balance in our mouths. The findings are presented in the journal Current Biology. [Catherine Peyrot des Gachons et al., Opponency of astringent and fat sensations]

The researchers say our natural tendency for seeking balance in our mouths might have benefits for maintaining a diversity of foods in our diet, but it might also have some drawbacks. For example, drinking astringent beverages, like soda, might encourage us to eat fatty foods like hamburgers and French fries. And too much balance in our mouths might create unbalanced waistlines.

—Gretchen Cuda Kroen

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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