20 Food Combos That Sound Gross but Are Actually Freaking Delicious
K. Aleisha Fetters
Some foods are made for each other: peas and carrots, bacon and eggs – you know the drill.
But what about soy sauce and chocolate or pizza and tuna? Turns out, there are a bunch of odd food pairings that will drive your taste buds absolutely wild (in a good way, of course). Here are 20 crazy combinations that are actually perfect for one another.
Peanut butter and curry
This concoction is similar to the curry gravies made throughout Thailand and India, says certified food scientist Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., a spokesperson with the Institute of Food Technologists. In those countries, peanut flours and grounds are often used to thicken sauces and give them a creamy consistency. Try spooning some peanut butter into your curry dishes. It will not only make them richer, but it can take the edge off of the spiciness. You can also sprinkle a little bit of curry powder on a peanut butter sandwich or crackers as a quick meal or snack.
Pineapple and blue cheese
Pineapple and cheese actually share many compounds, Shelke says. When paired, these compounds interact and heighten both flavours. Opt for blue cheese, recommends FoodPairing.com’s co-founder and science director, Bernard Lahousse. The tartness in the cheese complements the pineapple’s sweet notes. Try adding both to your next cheese plate.
Hot chocolate and avocado
Add avocado to your hot chocolate for extra flavour and a velvety smoothness, recommends Shelke. “It feels like you’re drinking a truffle,” she says. “The avocado lends a slight flavour, but it’s still mild and creamy.” Blend an avocado, and then add it to your mug of hot cocoa and milk.
Strawberries and Parmesan cheese
Parm-dusted strawberries are the new chocolate-covered strawberries. The butyric acid in Parmesan—which is also found in chocolate—reacts with the flavonoids in strawberry for a heightened sweet and savoury combo, Shelke says.
Pizza and tuna
Tuna’s umami flavour—a savory taste from the salt of the amino acid glutamate—makes pizza more hearty and satisfying, Shelke explains. And since umami is a bold, intense flavor, you won’t be tempted to mow through an entire pizza in a single sitting, she says. Try searing the tuna into strips and adding it to the top of your pizza. Raw, grilled, or canned tuna works, too.
Dark chocolate and beetroot
Beetroot is a root vegetable that has a distinct earthy aroma and taste caused by the compounds geosim and pyrazine, Shelke says. Dark chocolate contains pyrazines, too. So when you combine it with beetroot, you get a robust earthiness with a hint of sweetness and bitterness that will talk to your taste buds. Try topping a beetroot salad with dark chocolate crumbles.
Mashed potatoes and tomato sauce
In India, McDonalds serves a potato-patty sandwich that people douse with tomato sauce, according to Shelke.
“Potatoes are bland. Tomato sauce livens them up,” she says. “The glutamate in tomato gives an umami flavour to make the potato taste more satisfying.” It’s not all that different from fries with tomato sauce.
Margherita pizza and strawberries
Tomato, basil, and mozzarella make a great bed for strawberries, Lahousse says. A strawberry’s flavour isn’t that different from a tomato’s, so they complement one another. The berries also bring out the various bright, earthy notes in the cheese and greens.
Chocolate and soy sauce
“This is a great combination from a chemistry point of view,” Lahousse says. The soy sauce’s saltiness heightens the chocolate’s flavour. (That’s why salt in chocolate chip cookies tastes so good.) Plus, both foods contain roasted, woody, floral, and fruity components that bring out the best in one another. Try dipping your next chocolate bar into soy sauce or drizzling it on a chocolate cake or dessert.
Tomato sauce and dark chocolate
You probably squirt tomato sauce on a ton of different things, but we bet you never tried it on dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has tomato notes in it, so putting ketchup on it enhances those flavours and makes it even tastier, says Lahousse. Both foods also share coriander-ish aromas, thanks to a molecule called linalool. When paired, that yummy smell becomes even stronger.
Rhubarb and avocado
This vegetable and fruit combo is sweet, sour, and creamy all at once, Lahousse says. Try this new spin on salad: Coat rhubarb with sugar and roast it in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool, and then lay it over avocado slices.
Pickles and ice cream
Pregnant women might be onto something: The combination of pickles and ice cream may trigger a reward response in our brains, says Smaro Kokkinidou, Ph.D., assistant director at the University of Minnesota Flavour Research and Education Centre. Here’s why: The salt in a pickle is necessary for blood circulation and cellular metabolism, while the sugar and fat in ice cream provide quick energy, Kokkinidou explains. Your body needs all of those nutritional items to survive. Because of that, our brains tend to crave food pairings that contain them—no matter how gross they seem.
Gin and raspberries
The herby qualities in gin go great with the woody notes in raspberry, says food scientist Christopher R. Warsow, executive corporate chef at Bell Flavours & Fragrances. Muddle just a few raspberries into a gin and tonic to liven up the flavours but keep it from tasting too fruity.
Bacon and jam
This combination has the sweet-and-salty allure, but also has a ton of texture, Kokkinidou says. Your mouth will thank you. Try this: Cook up some bacon slices, and then place them between two slices of bread. Spread on your favorite jam. Or, go sans bread, and dip a slice of bacon straight into the jam.
Coffee and orange
Usually you drink your orange juice and coffee separate at breakfast. But adding an orange wedge or pouring a bit of OJ into your brew is a staple at Chicago’s go-to brunch spot, Orange. Orange takes the edge off of java’s bitterness, but it doesn’t weigh the beverage down like milk or cream, says Lahousse. It also adds a tiny bit of sweetness, without having to add straight sugar granules, he says.
Caviar and white chocolate
English celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal knew a bit of salt on white chocolate would enhance its flavour and soften the sweetness. So he started experimenting pairing white chocolate with salty ingredients, and eventually found that caviar resulted in a delicious combination.
Pickles and cheddar cheese
A favourite food combo among Brits, pickle-and-cheddar sandwiches can be found on pub menus across England. The trick is to use an aged cheddar that will cut the bitterness and saltiness of the pickles, Shelke says. Put them on bread for a sandwich or just stack the cheese with a pickle for a quick snack.
Pizza and ranch dressing
A dollop of ranch goes great with raw vegetable. But with a slice of pizza? The dressing’s slight tartiness makes the pizza’s savoury ingredients—like tomato sauce—pop, Lahousse says. And the dairy, garlic, salt, onion, and herbs in ranch match up with those exact ingredients in your slice.
Nutella and french fries
Salt is a taste enhancer, and it can bring out the perception of sweetness in a food. One of Warsow’s favorite sweet-and-salty pairings: Nutella hazelnut spread and French fries. The starch of the potato doesn’t carry much flavour, so it’s really just a vessel for the salt. Think of the combo as a fun, dunkable version of the popular combo of chocolate and sea salt. You can also sub the Nutella for a chocolate milkshake.
Chili powder and fruit
This sweet-and-spicy combo is popular in Latin America. The chili’s spice and heat increases the fruit’s sweetness. “It’s delicious,” says Warsow. You can try this with a variety of fruits like watermelon, mango, pineapple, coconut, papaya, orange, and cantaloupe. Test different types of powders like cayenne, ancho chili, and chipotle chili on different fruits to find your favourite pairings.