I have sampled food from around the world and, if faced with the difficult choice of selecting my “last meal,” I would not hesitate to choose Indian food. Sadly, most Americans don’t agree with me and even close relatives would prefer to dine on some other ethnic fare. According to a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post entitled “Why Delicious Indian Food is Surprisingly Unpopular in the United States,” the author (Roberto Ferdman) concludes that;
The answer . . . likely has to do with a certain lack of appreciation for the skill required to make Indian food. The cuisine is among the most labor intensive in the world. And yet Americans are unwilling to pay beyond a certain, and decidedly low, price point. Indian food, in other words, is cheap food in the eyes of many Americans. And that has all kinds of repercussions that have stunted the cuisine’s growth, at least on a commercial level.
In fact, Indian Food accounts only for 1.2% of ethnic food consumption in the United States as the chart from the Specialty Food Association.
Personally, I have a difficult time getting around this poor representation of Indian cuisine since their flavor profiles are second to none in my estimation.
Fortunately, science suggests that Asian and western foods differ significantly in their taste outcome. According to Scientific American, western cuisine share many flavor profiles at the molecular level resulting in a blend that may mask the authentic flavors of each of the food variables. This is apparently less true for Asian cuisine. Found below is a summary of their findings:
Science-minded chefs have gone so far as to suggest that seemingly incongruous ingredients—chocolate and blue cheese, for example—will taste great together as long as they have enough flavor compounds in common. Scientists recently put this hypothesis to the test by creating a flavor map, a variant of which we have reproduced here. Lines connect foods that have components in common; thick lines mean many components are shared. By comparing the flavor network with various recipe databases, the researchers conclude that chefs do tend to pair ingredients with shared flavor compounds—but only in Western cuisine. Dishes from a database of recipes from East Asia tend to combine ingredients with few overlapping flavors.
In other words, Indian cooking tends to produced consistent and distinguishable food flavors and aromas despite the fact that these dishes are often complicated to prepare because ingredients are combined with few overlapping flavors. In a more interpretative article by the Washington Post entitled “A scientific explanation of what makes Indian food so delicious,” the author suggests the following to aspiring chefs:
The takeaway is that part of what makes Indian food so appealing is the way flavors rub up against each other. The cuisine is complicated, no doubt: the average Indian dish, after all, contains at least 7 ingredients, and the total number of ingredients observed by the researchers amounted to almost 200 out of the roughly 381 observed around the world. But all those ingredients — and the spices especially — are all uniquely important because in any single dish, each one brings a unique flavor.
Now I realize that science is unlikely to make much of a dent in the dining habits of Americans, but the flavor profiles of Indian cuisine continues to inspire me and others who have experienced the richness of this culture expressed through food.