Many national cuisines rely heavily on the availability of certain ingredients How would you define what it is that makes British cuisine British? Or how are we able to recognise when we are eating an Italian dish, or Indian, Greek or Vietnamese for that matter?
While it’s hardly fair to stereotype an entire national cuisine with a few basic ingredients – most are of course just far too varied and diverse – it is hard to deny certain flavours evoke dishes from certain parts of the world.
Indeed, it is not unknown for countries to be defined by their “iconic dishes”.
Of course many national cuisines rely heavily on the availability of certain ingredients – although that may not necessarily explain the difference between, for example, German and French food.
However, data blog Priceonomics has sifted through 13,000 recipes from food website Epicurious, which tags each of the meals on its site with one of 26 “cuisines”, in order to attempt to find what it is that sets “Moroccan” food apart from “American”.
As the blog acknowledges, many of the recipes are from US sources, and so the results of the study are skewed towards how Americans see cuisines from different nationalities. It also appears to lump together certain countries – one of the tags is simply “African” – while the US itself is looked at in a lot more detail. The ingredients that make national dishes national dishes
It does however throw up a few interesting insights into world cuisine. While a number of nationalities do succumb to stereotype, such as the German’s use of sauerkraut, others are somewhat more surprising.
Who would have thought the ingredient that really sets England and Scotland apart from everybody else was the humble currant?
In order to find what it describes as each region’s “most distinctive ingredient”, the blog looked at which ingredients were most likely to be in its cuisine, compared to others from around the world. This is not a list of the most common ingredients therefore, and may explain some of the more odd ingredients included in the list.
Here is what it found:
Caraway was found in eight per cent of recipes tagged as African
The wholesome apple was America’s most distinctive ingredient, included in five per cent of recipes
Sesame oil was used in 30 per cent of recipes under the Asian tag
Okra was decided as the ingredient which set this cuisine apart. Used in eight per cent of recipes
Avocado was the healthy ingredient used in 13 per cent of recipes
Peanut oil – used in 16 per cent of recipes
Something of a surprise here – egg noodle was found in seven per cent of recipes
The humble currant, beloved of scone and tea-cake eaters across the country, was found in ten per cent of recipes
Tarragon is France’s defining ingredient, featuring in five per cent of recipes
Sauerkraut was used in 15 per cent of recipes
Quite a high hit-rate with this one – feta cheese was found in 31 per cent of recipes
Black mustard seed oil is listed as India’s most distinctive flavour, although it was only used in five per cent of recipes
Really? Whiskey – found in eight per cent of recipes
Romano cheese was found in five per cent of recipes
Katsuobushi, or dried, smoked tuna, found in nine per cent of recipes
The apricot was found in seven per cent of dishes
Feta cheese – found in ten per cent of dishes
Once again, the avocado coming into its own, at 15 per cent
Roasted sesame seeds were found in nine per cent of dishes
Caraway, found in ten per cent of dishes
Maybe could have guessed this? Herring, although it was only found in eight per cent of recipes
Corn grit was found in nine per cent
Black beans were found in eight per cent of dishes
Saffron, an essential paella ingredient, was found in 11 per cent of dishes
Galangal, from the ginger family, was found in 11 per cent of dishes
The Thai pepper actually came out as the most distinctive flavour in Vietnmanr, being used in 14 per cent of dishes