Saturday, December 17, 2011

Best use of bootstrapping, ever: the flavor network.

Not too often, a paper comes out that generates so much insight and is presented so elegantly that it induces jealousy.

Ahn et al. published a paper in Scientific Reports (Nature's version of PLOS), "Flavor network and the principles of food pairing". Essentially, the paper mined on-line recipe databases to generate differences in ingredient use and flavor-space among cuisines.

Each figure in the paper has so much that is interesting. At the center of a giant multivariate analysis of flavor is what Kendra called the "triangle of happiness": cocoa, beer, and coffee. At the center of that: katsuobushi--dried, shaved bonito tuna. It must be amazing. Liver by the way shares little in the way of flavors with anything else (thankfully).

The authors also use bootstrapping to see which are the most unique ingredients in different cuisine's recipes. North America clearly stands out for its desserts. Take away: milk, butter, cocoa, vanilla, cream, cream cheese, egg, peanut butter, and strawberries and our recipes are pretty similar to elsewhere in the world. Essentially it's our ice creams and cheese cakes that make us stand out.

So much about the food of the world, jammed into one paper. Blue cheese and chocolate share 73 flavor compounds? Throw away line.

This is an amazing food paper, yet I can't help think about why we can't do this for plants. Substitute regional flora for cuisines,  functional groups for ingredients, and functional traits for flavors and it would be once-in-a-century paper. Yet, you look at the underlying data for this paper and realize that paper is a century away.

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