Why Seafood and Sake Work Together
A seafood pro explains what the science means for flavor
January 11, 2021 ● 3 min read
BY KRISTEN HAWLEY | CONTENT SPONSORD BY OUR BRAND PARTNERS AT JFOODO.
You know that food and drink pairings are a thing, but do you know why? When done right, they create explosions of flavor in your mouth and, somehow, both the food and the beverage taste even better. Turns out, beyond being enjoyable there’s actual science behind how some pairings work.
Umami is labeled “the fifth taste,” and has only been officially recognized for the last century. It’s that subtle, mouthwatering taste you experience when eating something like a shitake mushroom or seaweed. It’s also a big part of what makes some pairings work so well.
In order to quantify the taste experience, Japanese research company AISSY and JFOODO, the Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center, assigned a numerical “umami score” to different alcoholic beverages and food pairings in search of the perfect pairing.
In an analysis of seven different beverages and 25 different dishes, Japanese sake paired with seafood led to the highest increase in enjoyable umami flavor. In fact, Japanese sake paired with any dish increased its umami score. So, not only is the pairing delightful on its own, but each element actually enhanced the other. To get scientific: the mixture of inosinic acid (found in seafood) and glutamic acid (found in sake) boosts overall umami flavor. We’ll call this umami synergy.
Christopher Tompkins is proprietor of Broad Street Oyster Company in Malibu, California. He developed the concept 3 ½ years ago as a mobile pop-up: an oyster cart and a camping grill in parking lots around Los Angeles. After a string of pop-ups in its current location, Broad Street Oyster Company officially launched as a permanent restaurant just off the Pacific Coast Highway in February 2020.
What do you focus on when you think about pairing a food with an alcoholic beverage? What about a food like oysters, which are often the star of the plate?
I think it depends on the dish and it depends on the beverage I’m drinking. The inspiration comes from one or the other. I may try a beverage and know exactly what I want to eat with it. Or I may try to create a dish and know what I want to drink with it. It’s rarely ever a sure shot but normally it will give me a good idea of which direction to take it.
I love the idea of bringing an interesting alcohol pairing to oysters.
Here’s the science: the mixture of inosinic acid and glutamic acid together leads to a boost in umami flavor. This is called umami synergy. What does that mean practically?
It’s a flavor explosion. It’s a combination that’s quite spectacular. The definition of umami in Japanese is “deliciousness,” and seafood and sake go hand-in-hand.
Food is art, but it’s also science. In this research, foods were given a numerical rating. Would a chef think like this? Would a diner? How does the person who’s eating the dish experience what these numbers represent?
My roots are as a consumer, not a chef, and that’s how I look at this. I look at it as something that in its bare basic quality — an oyster and sake — it’s hard to beat. That’s why it’s very hard to complement an oyster in my mind. I hate slathering it with cocktail sauce or anything that hides the flavor of any oyster. So to find something that enhances it so naturally well and not hide the flavor is to find something very special.
According to research, Japanese sake boosted the umami flavor of seafood at a rate higher than white wine, a beverage more people are likely to associate with seafood pairings. This seems pretty remarkable.
I think most people do think of oysters as something that has to be paired with a bottle of champagne or white wine, and that’s not necessarily true. Don't get me wrong, I love a bottle of champagne with a couple dozen oysters but I think the thing that’s exciting about a sake-seafood pairing is that it’s an amazing complement to an oyster. And it’s something that not a lot of people in western culture are aware of — yet.
TRY FOR YOURSELF
You don’t have to take our word for it! ChefsFeed has partnered with JFOODO for a series of custom seafood-sake pairings in New York and Los Angeles from January 25-31, 2021 so you can experience some umami synergy for yourself. The first 150 guests to order each of these seafood and sake pairings will get a special price (while supplies last)!
Broad Street Oyster Company | Malibu, CA
The Sake Drop (raw oyster garnished with a drop of Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku "Southern Beauty" Junmai Daiginjo sake)
Paired with more Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku "Southern Beauty" Junmai Daiginjo sake
Kismet | Los Angeles, CA
Black Lime Peel-N-Eat Shrimp with Saffron-Cashew Aioli
Paired with Kamoizumi Shusen "Three Dots" Junmai Ginjo sake
Mokbar (Chelsea Market) | New York, NY
Fresh Tuna & Salmon with Roasted Pumpkin and a Gochujang Vinaigrette
Paired with Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri "Mirror of Truth" Junmai sake
LaRina | New York, NY
Fluke Crudo with Blood Orange, Fennel, Taggisca Olive Oil, and Crusco Pepper
Paired with Kokuru Kuzuryu "Nine-Headed Dragon" Junmai sake