Research uncovers the somatosensory basis for pairing red wine with red meat

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Why does high-tannin red wine pair well with fatty red meat? According to research published in the October 9 issue of Current Biology, it is because the dry oral sensation produced by red wine counters the slippery oral sensation associated with fattiness.

“The mouth is a magnificently sensitive somatosensory organ, arguably the most sensitive in the body,” said Paul Breslin of Rutgers University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “The way foods make our mouths feel has a great deal to do with what foods we choose to eat.”

Astringent wine and fatty meat sit on opposite ends of a sensory spectrum, according to the research. The combination of the two helps maintain a balance in the mouth between dry, rough sensations and lubricated, slippery sensations.

Though beverages like red wine and tea are only slightly astringent, the researchers found that they build in perceived astringency with repeated sipping.

“Work is still required to determine how different wines, teas and acidic foods, such as pickles and sorbets, vary in their efficacy of ameliorating oral fatty sensations during meals, and whether differences among individuals in the degree of cleansing effect by astringents is linked to their respective differences in oral tactile sensitivities,” Breslin and his colleagues wrote in their study.

“Astringent foods are desired with meals as they appear to provide a pleasant sensation of ‘cleanness’ in the mouth, removing after-tastes and fatty mouth coating sensations, as referred to in their international conceptualization as ‘palate cleansers.’”

Photo credit: Doniree Walker

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