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  • Writer's pictureYimin Xu

Best easy plant-based meals: how to create exciting dishes every time

Recall the last time you enjoyed a really delicious meal. Was it yesterday? This weekend? When you are ready, let me ask you this question, “how much of the amazing flavour came from the taste, versus the smell?”

You might think, “sure it smelt pretty good, but I’m sure it’s 80-90% the taste. There’s a reason that we say something tastes yummy”. While that’s a reasonable expectation, the real answer might surprise you. The majority of what we perceive as flavour actually comes from our sense of smell [1]. Don't believe me? The quickest way of seeing it for yourself is to pinch your nose when you drink a coffee or roast the potatoes without garlic and thyme.

Why is the smell so important?

The human nose has over 400 scent receptors, allowing us to detect over a trillion odours[2].

Foods release “volatile organic compounds” that vaporise into the air and reach the olfactory receptors in our noses[3]. How fast they travel and linger depends on the molecular weights. We tend to associate these odours with smells from everyday life: smoky, herbal, earthy, floral, citrusy etc. When different foods are combined, the volatile organic compounds also interact with each other to accentuate one particular note, produce more complex notes or override one another. The scent mixture is not only detected by the receptors along the roof of the nasal passage, but also by the back of the throat. Combined with the tastes detected by the tongue, our brain processes the overall profile of the food.

The food pairing theory focuses on the overlapping aromas between different foods. Foods with overlapping aromas tend to go well together, even if they look surprising at times. For example, Sang-Hoon Degeimbe’s kiwitre dish combines oyster with kiwi, while Heston Blumenthal finds caviar to be surprisingly flavourful with white chocolate. Both dishes seem counterintuitive but work because of their aromatic compatibility.

So what? How does this improve my plant-based cooking?

This is particularly important because while Michelin chefs spend endless effort tweaking the aromatic pairings in their £50 dishes, we could use the same theory to create wonderful flavours at home. Knowing what foods pair well with each other in terms of aromas can overcome the problem of eating “bland” or “unsatisfying” food that does not contain meat or dairy. In fact, you could even replicate the smoky flavours of a BBQ with the right spices and plant-based whole foods. With the food you think you dislike, start pairing them with the ones you like but also go well aromatically. Soon you expand the range of your senses to really enjoy the wide variety of flavours. Eventually, you become a master home chef who can confidently experiment with new plant-based ideas that are not found anywhere else!

How do I start?

This is when Plantwise comes in. We show you how different plant-based food could pair. When you look to create a new dish, start with one or two main ingredients. Then add the smart suggestions we provide that go well with your picks in terms of aroma, taste, and nutrition. Begin impressing not only yourself but all of your friends and loved ones with the exciting creativity that is usually found only in Michelin restaurants. Eating plant-based will NEVER be boring again.

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