It’s commonly suggested and accepted that the perfect obvious pairing for spicy foods is an IPA. Curry and IPA. Wings and IPA. This is an interesting article that I found on the Brewers Association website (www.craftbeer.com) by Nicole Garneau, that talks about the science behind why that’s not actually correct if you’re looking to quench your thirst or subdue your burning mouth. On our Vancouver Brewery Tours we talk a little about pairing beer and food. I learned in the Cicerone Certified Beer Server program that you can either complement your food’s flavours or you can contrast the flavours. At the end of the day it’s up to you! You can also find a pairing chart on the Brewers Association website here.
My career cultivating a scientific understanding about flavor has prepared me for contributing to beer knowledge, but not “growing up” in the industry means that I often am not aware of the many of the shared stories, anecdotes and oral histories that have been passed down from one brewing generation to the next. So it’s not surprising that I find myself stumbling into these moments of tension where my grasp on the science behind a phenomenon, like beer calming spice, doesn’t quite match up with the brewing industry’s perspective.
Along those lines, I recently got myself in a bit of boiling water. I was presenting a workshop of food and beer pairing alongside my colleagues on the Beer & Food Working Group, when I made a comment about the dated image of beer and hot wings and made the mistake of following that up by saying beer is a pretty terrible choice for spicy food. There was an audible gasp in the audience, and I looked over to find my friend, and incidentally, publisher of CraftBeer.com, Julia Herz shaking her head with eyes wide. I learned later that for many craft connoisseurs like Julia, beer is a go-to for spicy Thai and Indian food. She swore that it was the residual sugar in the beer that made the pairing work.
How Your Taste Receptors React to Spicy Foods
First, the reason why spicy foods cause a burning feeling is because they contain an irritant. For this reason, spicy is a mouthfeel, not a taste. It could be capsaicin in chili peppers, gingerol in ginger, or cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon to name a few. These irritants bind to receptors on the tongue, which kicks off a chain reaction and signals to the brain that there is something potentially dangerous in the mouth. This causes the brain to unleash a typical pain reaction: dilation of blood vessels cause your skin to get red, sweating occurs, and you actually feel like your mouth is burning. The goal of a pain reaction? Your body is telling you to counteract. If you’re reading this post, my guess is that you counteract by picking up your beer….
Read the full article here.
About the Author: Dr. Nicole Garneau is a geneticist who studies taste, co-author of the Beer Flavor Map, and co-founder of the beer sensory app DraughtLab. She is a sought-after speaker, has done numerous media interviews and is featured in the book, Beer Pairing the Essential Guide from the Pros. She is a member of ASBC, the Beer & Food Working Group, and on the advisory board member for the Fermentation Science & Technology program at her alma mater Colorado State University. When she’s not speaking or consulting on sensory perception, she’s enjoying time at her day job as PI of the Genetics of Taste Lab at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.