A genuine foodie can wear a blindfold and still tell you what type of cuisine they are eating just by the flavor. To be honest, this is not some sort of magic trick. It turns out that different types of cuisine have very identifiable flavor profiles linked to their base ingredients. Understand those base ingredients and it becomes relatively easy to identify different cuisines.
Formally trained chefs learn to cook various cuisines by learning their flavor bases. Flavor bases consist of a combination of aromatics and fats. Aromatics engage the olfactory system as well as the sense of taste. Fats are more limited to the sense of taste.
Note that flavor bases alone do not necessarily separate one cuisine from another. That’s because chefs supplement their aromatics and fats with other things. Being able to taste a flavor base plus its supplements really keys a foodie in to what it is they are eating.
Example #1: Mexican Food
If you were to purchase snack foods from the Chilito Loco website, you would get products with a heavy dose of chili powder. That’s because chili powder is one of the main spices utilized in Mexican recipes. However, you might be surprised that chilies are not part of the Latin flavor base. They are a supplement.
Aromatics in a Latin flavor base include garlic, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers. The primary fat is olive oil. You might taste all these flavors in a Chilito Loco snack. Then again, you might taste only a few of them. But you will definitely taste the supplemental chili powder that Mexico is known for.
Example #2: Middle Eastern Food
Middle Eastern food can be somewhat spicy as well. Its aromatics are garlic, tomatoes, onions, scallions, and raisins. The raisins add a uniquely sweet flavor to what are otherwise considered savory aromatics. As for the fats, Middle Eastern cuisine utilizes a lot of clarified butter and cooking oil.
Supplementary ingredients are that which create the contrast between Middle Eastern food and other cuisines. Common supplements include ginger, saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric.
Example #3: French Food
French cuisine is known for its use of heavy creams and sauces. It is also not especially spicy. French cuisine relies mainly on onions, celery, and carrots as its aromatics. Butter is the main fat. To be sure, neither the aromatics nor the fats are especially powerful. That explains why French cuisine tends to be more gentle on the palate.
As for supplements, you are looking at things like parsley, bay leaves, and thyme. Again, there is nothing too overwhelming here. You get more subtle and gentle flavors and aromas and less noticeable spice.
Example #4: Chinese Food
Fans of Chinese food note that it can be both spicy and somewhat savory simultaneously. For example, it is not unusual to get a flavorful sweet-and-sour chicken and a curry rice on the same plate. As an appetizer, you can enjoy flavorful eggrolls that offer no spice at all.
Chinese cuisine aromatics include ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cooking oil is the primary fat. As for supplemental ingredients, think cilantro, shallots, chives, anise, and chilies. Chinese five spice is another favorite supplement.
It should be clear from all four examples that different flavor bases produce different results. Combine flavor bases with supplemental ingredients and you can fine tune recipes to make them exactly what you want. What makes different cuisines taste so unique is their emphasis on specific combinations. Those combinations are what give different cuisines their unique profiles. If you know what they are, you can identify exactly what you are eating.