by Dan Ketchum
In “What To Drink With What You Eat,” Andrew Dornenburg writes of food pairings, “Of our desires, some are natural and necessary, others are natural but not necessary, and others are neither natural nor necessary.” It’s that esoteric last category that we’re most interested in here, the tastebud-based desires that seem wild on paper but feel just like home upon the first bite.
With a cornucopia of complex terpenes determining each strain’s distinct aroma and flavor, cannabis has taken its rightful place in the food-pairing conversation right alongside wine and whiskey. But we’re not content with leaving it at that — these are the uncommon, eye-opening food combinations that just work despite your expectations, and this is your road map for arriving at these startling and wonderful pairings at your next dinner party.
The Golden Rules
While it’s impossible to lay out a comprehensive guidebook for every viable flavor combination that pleases the palate, knowing some (often science-based) ground rules equips you for thinking outside the box. Remember, Picasso had all but mastered realism before he went cubist — you’ve got to know the rules to flex them.
- Acidic tannins pleasingly offset high-fat flavors.
- Acid also cuts through salty flavors in a satisfyingly sharp way.
- Earthy profiles mingle well with lactic flavors.
- When pairing savory with savory, match the yang of weighty, textured foods with the yin of something lighter and softer.
- Sweet and heat is almost always a reliable flavor combination.
These rules of thumb are just the tip of an iceberg that extends deep below the surface, but there’s plenty of help available for your journey. For instance, James Briscione’s “The Flavor Matrix” presents beautifully spiraling infographic-like pairing charts derived from the molecular basis of flavors, while the free version of Foodpairing offers an accessible springboard of potential food combinations based on a single-ingredient search.
Pairing With Strains
In a 2017 study published in PLOS One, a team of scientists from the University of British Columbia discovered about 30 different terpene synthases genes responsible for the unique aromas and flavor profiles you’ll find across different strains of weed. Three major terpene groups make it easy to identify basic flavor profiles: citrusy limonene, dank and earthy myrcene and bright, grassy pinene.
Our own Over the Rainbow, for example, leads with the citrus-leaning Electric Lemonade and finishes with Sweet Tangie, orange-like flavors that can create surprising food combinations with ingredients like baked duck, dry-cured ham and creamy mascarpone cheese. On the other hand, Houdini balances earthy and floral strains like Herijuana and Blueberry Bomb, and those berry notes secretly make grilled cuts of Iberico pork or Dover sole pop, while the spicy earthiness really completes figs, pomelos and Witbier. Phantom’s emphasis on woody notes, led by the pinene-rich Wunderdog strain, brings smooth balance to basmati rice, white chocolate, Atlantic salmon and fried okra.
Even with the right tools in your chest, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little inspiration to get your first elevated dinner party started. Influenced by sources from “The Flavor Matrix” to Food & Wine and world-class chefs, here are a few of our favorite unexpected but unmistakable food combinations to explore:
- Creamy coconut oats with shrimp and jalapenos.
- Negroni with a mezze plate of hummus and baba ghanoush — try it with a smoky Max OG.
- Flank steak with blueberry balsamic sauce.
- Single-malt Japanese whiskey with French vanilla ice cream.
- Tuna crudo coated in powdered dark chocolate with chile sauce.
- Chocolate and avocado cookies.
- Banana-based curry topped off with the spicy lemon of Hellfire OG.
- Blanco tequila with leafy greens, further brightened with a side of Super Silver Haze.
- Tomato-based salsa with green apple over pork tenderloin.
When flavor combinations work, they flow together like a symphony, and we’ve just given you the sheet music. You know the notes that sound good together, so it’s time to conduct a taste-bud orchestra of your own — just don’t forget to invite your closest friends.
Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, Livestrong, Reign Together, Out East Rosé, SFGate, the Seattle Times and more.
Wine Folly – Simple Science of Food and Wine Pairing
Foodpairing – Home Page
Tasting Table – How To Pair Flavors, According to Science
PLOS One – Terpene Synthases From Cannabis Sativa
CNN Travel – Weird and Wonderful Food and Drink Pairings
Food & Wine – 12 Weird Food Pairings That Actually Taste AmazingReader’s Digest – 15 Weird Food Combinations Chefs Secretly Love