A big, bold red wine and fat-laced steak go together like ham and eggs, but why? Researchers teasing out the way food feels and interacts in our mouths say they’ve found the answer: astringent wine and fatty meat occupy opposite ends of the culinary sensory spectrum, titillating our palate in ways neither offering could do on its own. Their pairing creates a perfect blend of sensation for our eager taste buds.
While deep red wines feel “rough and dry” to our mouths, fats from a steak are slippery. But with repeated sipping, the researchers showed, weakly astringent liquids—like grape seed extract from wine, or green tea—build in perceived astringency in the mouth. When meat then enters the picture, the astringent playing field laid by the wine counters the slippery sensation produced by fat. In nature, the foodie scientists say, finding naturally opposite foods may have maintained a diversity of foods in our diet.
“The mouth is a magnificently sensitive somatosensory organ, arguably the most sensitive in the body,” the authors said in a statement. “The way foods make our mouths feel has a great deal to do with what foods we choose to eat.”
More from Smithsonian.com: