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The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Tastes?

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 20, 2013

In the Greek era, it started as 4 tastes: Sweet, Sour, Salty and Bitter. Then is was proposed there might be a 5th taste – Umami. For a different perspective on Umami let’s defer to NPR. Some might add a 6th taste to that – Kokumi. Or maybe there are up to 13 tastes? That is a lot to think about. Keep thinking.

On many levels, I think our society and specifically our/my food community over thinks, over categorizes, over photographs and over celebrates food. This can lead to wonderful things: new discoveries, new connections and new ideas. It serves to unite people with different tastes. It also serves to subdivide us into different levels of food snobbery and elitism – not healthy, too healthy, mass-produced or militantly organic. This paragraph is just a side commentary before I move on.

The first paragraph might reflect the science of eating. A few months ago, I mentioned the next day effect. As a counterbalance to my science related post I now delve into the art of eating. What I am thinking through now might be called a pairing paradigm. Your are each familiar with this to some extent already. We defer to Sommeliers to connect the right wine with the menu of the night. We recognize the expertise of people who pair wines with cheeses (I have a chart on my refrigerator). We might consult with a butcher or fish monger to pair flavors as well.

This morning while eating cold pizza with a Cherry Coke, I had an epiphany – there are certain foods that we might not crave or might not even eat by themselves, but put them together and the combination is divine. I don’t drink much pop (yes, in the Midwest we call it pop without shame or apology). I never sit and think, “man, I would love to drink a Coke right now!” (On rare occasions, on a hot summer day while sitting on the porch, I might think about drinking a root beer in a frosted mug). But when I think about pizza, either a slice or a while pie, I would not think about eating it without a Coke product. Coke is always paired in my mind and my appetites with certain foods – often greasy and frequently Italian – hamburgers, meatball subs, Stromboli, an Italian Beef Sandwich, a Taco Truck taco. I would not consider these without a Coke, ideally a glass of fountain coke with rabbit pellet style ice or a frosty glass bottle. A common hot dog by itself….maybe. Add a great brown mustard and a perfect slightly toasted bun….that is a next level, dynamic, irresistible combination. Generic peanut butter…meh. Milk Chocolate….meh. Put them together in the form of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and I’ll eat that all day. A fresh fig with goat cheese……BAM! There are certain food items that by themselves might not do much for you, but paired together they are DY-NO-MITE! There are others combinations you would never consider having one without the other. In the Malcolm Gladwell world of connectors, they must be some term for when two foods collide and our tongues are better for it.

My question to you is what are your dynamic duos of food and what is the best term for this phenomenon.

2 Responses to “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Tastes?”

  1. Lisa said

    I don’t know if you have been following the Cbus food scene long enough to remember Tarpy’s Deli at Kingsdale shopping center in Upper Wonderful. They also had a general line grocery at Tremont center in the space now inhabited by Huffman’s. anyway, for me fountain Coke with pellet ice is always paired in my memory with a fresh bagel and cream cheese with thinly sliced roast beef from Tarpy’s deli. It is almost impossible for me to consume a bagel and cream cheese without a fountain Coke to wash it down!

    Another very quirky pairing I just remembered from childhood is Wrigley’s Spearmint gum chewed while simultaneously eating Cherry Lifesavers (both purchased from the glass case at the checkout counter at the Chef-O-Nette at Tremont center. My sister and I would walk there and she would buy cigarettes from the vending machine in the vestibule and she would buy this treat for me if I promised not to tell our mom that she was buying smokes!

  2. Amy Witt said

    I know that you asked for duo’s but the first combination that I thought of is a reuben sandwich. I like corned beef, but the only way I will eat rye bread, sour kraut, russian dressing and swiss cheese is to combine them into a hot, gooey, grilled mess.

    As for a duo…I refuse to eat Girl Scout Thin Mints without a glass of cold milk.

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