Yvonne Seier Christensen Professional Curriculum Vitae

Champagne Les Cinq Filles & Oysters the Unami Synergistic Effect

Food and flavour pairing are commonly used as an empirically based phenomenology by chefs and food innovators for creating delicious dishes. However, there is little if any science behind the pairing systems used, and it appears that pairing is determined by food culture and tradition rather than by chemical food composition. In contrast, the pairing implied by the synergy in the umami taste, elicited by free glutamate and free nucleotides, is scientifically founded on an allosteric action at the umami receptor, rendering eggs-bacon and cheese-ham delicious companions. Based on measurement of umami compounds in champagnes and oysters we suggest that a reason why champagne and oysters are considered good companions may be the presence of free glutamate in champagne, and free glutamate and nucleotides in oysters. By calculations of the effective umami potential we reveal which combinations of oysters and champagnes lead to the strongest umami taste. We also show that glutamate levels and total amount of free amino acids are higher in aged champagnes with long yeast contact, and that the European oyster (Ostrea edulis) has higher free glutamate and nucleotide content than the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) and is thus a better candidate to elicit synergistic umami taste.

Champagne Les Cinq Filles & Oysters – The Unami Synergistic Effect
Champagne Les Cinq Filles & Oysters – The Unami Synergistic Effect

Humans’ food preferences are complex and dependent on a wide range of factors, such as food culture, tradition, social upbringing, as well as genetic and physiological differences. The preferences for certain aromas, tastes, and textures behind food preferences are equally complex, although it is believed that we carry with us our distant ancestors’ quest for certain aroma compounds that during evolution has led us to nutritious and calorie-rich ripe fruit. In addition, there are some fundamental and universal preferences across different individuals, populations, and human races, manifested in our common craving for the basic tastes sweet and umami, a drive that has formed us as omnivores during evolution to guide us to calorie- and protein-rich foods.

A further step in complexity arises when considering the way we combine food ingredients and their different sensory cues in dishes and meals: this is what cooking and the culinary arts are all about. In some cases, it is commonly known and accepted that certain food items are good companions, such as eggs and bacon or stilton and rhubarb, as well as certain food-beverage items, such as wine and cheese, the latter being a well-known pairing example that has been extensively investigated by sensory evaluation. In other cases, inventive chefs have designed new combinations that have not been considered before, such as caviar and white chocolate11. This has led to the so-called Food Pairing Theory that claims to be able to explain good pairing as determined by an overlap of identical or related aroma components in the paired food items. The pairing principle has also been used for substitution of one food item by another, e.g., tomatoes by strawberries. It should be pointed out that there is no sound principle behind this Food Pairing Theory.

Excerpt from ‘Umami synergy as the scientific principle behind taste‑pairing champagne and oysters’ by Charlotte Vinther Schmidt, Karsten Olsen & Ole G. Mouritsen*

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