Perfect pairs: Why do food combos like oysters and champagne taste so good together?

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — There’s a good chance some New Year’s parties were serving oysters with their champagne celebrations. It’s a classic pairing, just like ham and cheese or meat and tomatoes. So what makes these delicious duos so perfect together? A recent study finds it all comes down to the basic savory taste, better known as umami.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen say perfect pairings like champagne and oysters come down to the “uncanny umami synergy,” one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. While umami is usually associated with broths and cooked meats, it is also present in plenty of other food choices. The team adds their results could help to encourage people to eat more greens by making any vegetable a tasty side-kick with something else.

“The answer is to be found in the so-called umami taste, which along with sweet and salty, is one of the five basic flavors detectable to human taste buds,” says senior author Professor Ole Mouritsen in a university release. “Many people associate umami with the flavor of meat. But now, we have discovered that it is also found in both oysters and champagne.”

What sparks these perfect flavor combinations?

The researchers examined a variety of champagnes along with both Limfjord oysters and Pacific oysters. They discovered dead yeast cells left over from the fermentation process give champagne its umami flavor. While in oysters, the savory taste comes from nucleotides in the mollusk’s muscles.

Food and drink pair well when they spark an umami synergy from combinations of glutamate and certain nucleotides,” lead author and doctoral student Charlotte Schmidt explains. “Champagne and oysters create a notably synergistic effect that greatly enhances the taste of the champagne. Furthermore, champagne contributes to the overall impression with, for example, its acidity and bubbles. That explains the harmony of these two foods.”

The study finds human beings are hardwired to crave umami as it signals protein-rich foods. This may also explain why we are not so keen on vegetables, which are umami free.

“Understanding the umami principle is particularly important because it can help get us to eat more vegetables,” Prof. Mouritsen says. “By being cognizant of umami synergy, one can make any vegetable tasty. And, it is my firm belief that if we want more people to eat more vegetables, we need to deal with the fact that greens lack umami.”

Which food pairing is the best of the best?

Study authors reveal the best umami tasting combo is between native Danish Limfjord oysters and an older vintage champagne.

“One gets the most bang for the buck and best taste experience by tracking down flat Limfjord oysters and an unfortunately slightly more expensive bottle of older champagne,” Mouritsen adds. “Older vintage champagnes have more dead yeast cells, which provide more umami. And Limfjord oysters contain large quantities of the substances that give umami synergy.”

This is not to say, however, that other species of oysters and types of champagne don’t mix. Mouritsen notes that Pacific oysters can be harvested in the same areas as Limfjord oysters; creating an equally tasty and umami-filled combination.

The findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.