Unique flavor combinations

Unique Flavor Combinations: Exploring New Taste Frontiers

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I am a dietitian because I am actually a foodie at heart. There is nothing I love more than trying new and unique flavor combinations. 

I distinctly remember the first time I tried Korean tacos from the Kogi Truck in 2008. Tacos with Korean BBQ inside? Who would have ever thought of that? There is nothing I love more than finding a new interesting flavor combination to try. 

But now, unique flavor combinations are a major trend in the food industry. Whether it be “Pilk” (Pepsi mixed with milk), ranch-flavored ice cream, or just combining the traditional flavors of various ethnic cuisines, flavor combinations are here to stay. What are some of these flavor combinations and why do they work?

Science and Flavor Pairings

The science of flavor and flavor combinations is a fascinating world that many of us have no real understanding of. The science of food and flavor is actually quite scientific. It is based on the theory that foods that share key flavor compounds are more likely to harmonize when it comes to flavor. 

This science-based approach to understanding how flavors work together has given rise to tools like this cool flavor pairings map, which is a visual way to understand the connections between flavors and which foods go well together. For example, chocolate and coffee share certain flavor profiles that can enhance taste, which is why they are a classic pairing. Who doesn’t love mocha or a delicious tiramisu?

However, finding unique combinations goes beyond the scientific analysis of shared compounds. It also requires an understanding of how flavors contrast and balance each other, such as how citrus is able to balance out the richness of seafood. This fine balance of flavors is what helps create a more complex and satisfying dish.

Cultural and Emotional Influences

Eating is not just about science, it is also about human emotion and connection. Cultural traditions and personal experiences play a major role in flavor preferences and pairings. Ingredients and dishes that are staples in certain regions often become paired based on availability, tradition, and communal tastes. 

But in our global world, food rarely stays regional. And to me, this is the most exciting thing. I love it when chefs pair different international cuisines to create a cultural fusion of flavors. (Here’s looking at you Korean tacos!)

Why Do We Love Unique Flavors?

While many of us do love comfort and predictability (I mean, this is why retro foods are making a comeback), many of us also like a little sprinkle of innovation to keep things exciting. The unique flavor trend taps into our love of novelty and the desire of many to explore the boundaries of creativity when it comes to what we eat. 

I mean, what if your favorite food is still out there waiting to be discovered? 

Trending Flavor Combinations

So what unique flavors and combinations are trending at the moment? I asked some of my foodie dietitian colleagues about some of the flavor trends they are seeing for 2024.

Swicy

Mandy Enright, MS, RD The Food + Movement Dietitian said the concept of “swicy” has been ramping up over recent years. This is a combo of “sweet & spicy”, which just seems to be pairing so well together. 

Perhaps you’ve tried a mango sprinkled with the chili-lime seasoning blend called Tajin. Or had sweet chili-flavored wings or tofu. Swicy is also common in cocktails, like Pineapple Habanero margaritas or other sweet beverages featuring various hot peppers like Jalapeno. 

Many snack foods are already on this trend, like Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Tangy Chili Fusion Flavored Snacks, Taki Dragon Sweet Chili, and Sweet Chili Doritos. (These are obviously not healthy foods, but still an example of this trend worth mentioning).

Enright tells us she expects to also start seeing swicy seasoning blends showing up at the grocery store.  We found a few that looked intriguing on Amazon, like this Honey Habanero or this Raspberry Chipotle seasoning.

Savory Peanut Butter

While many cultures have used peanuts for savory dishes and sauces, this fan favorite is becoming even more popular. Lisa Hugh of Southern Maryland Dietitian told us she is seeing savory peanut butter dishes pop up everywhere. She has seen it in “West African soups, peanut butter soup at Colonial Williamsburg, peanut butter bread + beef flavored ramen noodles, Thai sauces, even a peanut butter + cucumber sandwich”.

Peanut butter is really having its day! But did it ever really go out of style?

Asian Flavors

Asian food has so many unique flavors it’s no wonder that many chefs turn to this cuisine for inspiration. Dietitian Megan Huff told us she has recently seen Ube & Longaniza pizza at her local pizza joint. Ube is a Philipino purple yam that is being infused into the pizza crust, lending its purple color. I have seen it in ice cream too! Longaniza is a traditional Philipino sausage that would definitely taste great on a pizza.

Ube potato

Suren Chiu, RD also told us that Asian fusion is inspiring other combinations like miso and pasta or kimchi with cheese. I mean, this kimchi grilled cheese recipe does look amazing. 

Gluten-Free Alternatives

While gluten-free isn’t trending QUITE as much as it was a few years back, many do still look for alternatives to traditional gluten-containing options.

Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD and owner of One Pot Wellness said that “The rice burger is an unexpected food combination that swaps out the traditional burger bun for two rice “buns” made from compressed rice. The rice patty provides a hearty, satisfying base that can stand up to typical burger toppings like cheese, lettuce, tomato, and condiments. This makes rice burgers an excellent gluten-free alternative to traditional hamburgers. Rice burgers can be found at certain restaurant chains for a unique and gluten-free option.”

Chickpea flour is also a great gluten-free alternative that is loaded with fiber and protein. Dietitian Moushumi shared these Chickpea Flour Pancakes (that also happen to be “swicy”) with us. Chickpea flour has become popular in the gluten free space with trending brands like Banza making alternatives to favorites like pasta and rice. 

The Future of Unique Flavor Combinations

The exploration of unique flavor combinations is more than a culinary trend; it’s a gateway to cultural exchange, scientific discovery, and just makes life much more fun. As we continue to merge traditional and unexpected ingredients, we not only enhance our palates but also our understanding of the world through food. 

Whether it’s the tangy thrill of “swicy” snacks or the rich depth of savory peanut butter, each new combination invites us to think differently about the foods we eat and the experiences they represent. So, let your curiosity guide your taste buds—you might just find your new favorite dish in the most surprising of flavors. What are you going to try today?