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Are there "models" proposing relationships between spices as there are between colors?
(I understand that color is based on the physics of light and that there is no (afaik) "physics of flavor". I am using it as a metaphor)

I'd like to get more creative and adventurous with mixing spices but I've blindly overspiced a few dishes and have grown cautious... I don't really understand what I am doing sometimes when I add spices: what I am trying to achieve.

  • Oregano and Marjoram – next to each other on the "spice wheel". Marjoram is more polite.

  • Tarragon – has overnight dates with Cardamon but swears they are not an "item"

  • Bay Leaves – no one knows what these taste like but they are really important!

I'm joking but I hope you get the gist. Is there a "model" or language with spices? ("Bay Leaves add DEPTH, damn it!!!") which informs how they can be used?

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    This is great. The metaphor I had in mind for this was chords, like on a piano or guitar. Like cumin, coriander seed and ginger form a basic major chord in my opinion. – Carmi Dec 3 '19 at 13:29
  • @Carmi - oh I like the 'chord' idea! - better metaphor. – spring Dec 3 '19 at 14:38
  • If I ever write a book about it, I'll send you a copy. – Carmi Dec 4 '19 at 15:10
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You are not the first to wonder about that and yes, there are “color wheels” approaches, two books for example are

  • The Science of Spice: Understand Flavour Connections and Revolutionize your Cooking by Dr. Stuart Farrimond
  • The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

Not necessarily an endorsement of these specific books (there are more with a similar concept, some discussing spices, other flavors in general), but those two should get you started in the right direction - or at least give you an idea.

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  • Thanks! I'm accepting your answer – if anyone else has other book recommendations, please add them! – spring Dec 1 '19 at 15:25
  • Many spice shops have charts with spice and ingredient (beef, poultry, pork, dairy, vegetables...) compatibility for reference too – Juliana Karasawa Souza Dec 2 '19 at 13:49
  • it's worth noting that The Flavour Thesaurus ha a quite literal color wheel on its cover – Agos Dec 5 '19 at 11:36
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Not quite a "wheel" approach, but The Flavor Bible by Page and Dornenburg is another reference (older and differently organized from The Flavor Thesaurus). I'd say the The Flavor Bible is a little more detailed on classification of ingredients by various parameters and possible pairings ("affinities"), while The Flavor Thesaurus gives a little more detailed explanation on why certain pairings work.

But if you're really looking for something akin to a visual color wheel approach, my understanding is that the recent book The Flavor Matrix by Briscione and Parkhurst actually uses many color diagrams very much like that to show flavor affinities, based on flavor ingredients that were chemically analyzed and organized in part using IBM's Watson technology. (I haven't bought the book yet, so I can't speak to it in detail, but it's on my list.)

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