Flavour Profiles

By Franz Scheurer


Have you ever wondered just exactly what flavours define a specific cuisine? How do we immediately recognise a Greek or Thai dish? Why do we know it’s Greek, not Turkish or Thai and not Laotian, although they’re neighbours? Because apart from the staples and the cooking methods they use there are definite ethnic flavour profiles, evolved over hundreds of years. Just as each culture speaks a different language, has a different way to worship and builds a different dwelling they have adopted a different way to prepare food. If we can reduce the myriad of tastes and techniques down to a handful of core items, then we have a basis of understanding and reproducing the food of a specific cuisine, without the need for recipes. We need to understand a cuisine’s flavour profile before we attempt to cook its food.


Let’s try and list some flavour profiles:


Arabian Gulf: Black Limes, Cumin, Garlic and Coriander

Burma: Onion, Ginger, Garlic and Chilli

China: Oyster Sauce, Black Vinegar, Rice Wine, Sesame Seed Oil and Ginger

England (Traditional) Savory, Lavender, Horseradish and Lovage

Egypt: Dukkah, Thyme, Mint, Tomato and Garlic

France: Stocks, Wine and Dairy and

North: Goose Fat, Sorrel, Fermented Cabbage and Garlic

Central: Butter, Tomato, Celery, Garlic and Tarragon

Normandy: Apple Cider, Calvados and Chervil

Provence: Olive Oil, Garlic, Rosemary, Thyme and Marjoram

Germany: Bay Leaf, Juniper Berry, Nutmeg, Cloves, Celeriac and White Pepper

Greece: Tomato, Lemon, Cinnamon, Olive Oil and Oregano

Hungary: Lard, Paprika, Onion and pickled Chillies

Indonesia: Ketjup Manis, Brown Sugar, Peanut, Blachan and Chilli

India: North: Cumin, Ginger, Garlic, Saffron

            South: Mustard Seed, Coconut, Tamarind and Chilli

            Goa: Cumin, Turmeric, Curry Leaf, Kokam, Coconut and Chilli

Italy:   North: Butter, Garlic, Capers, Sage, Cheese and Basil

            South: Garlic, Olive Oil, Anchovy, Rocket, Tomato and Pine Nuts

Japan: Soy Sauce, Wasabi, Sake, Mirin and Seaweed

Korea: Soy Sauce, Sesame, Brown Sugar and Chilli

Laos: Fishsauce and Coconut

Malaysia: Dark Soy, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds, Cumin, Candle Nut, Gula Malacca

Mexico: Tomato, Lime, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla and Chilli

Middle East: Preserved Lemon, Parsley, Purslane, Za’atar and Somak

Morocco: Coriander, Cumin, Cinnamon, Ginger, Onion, Tomato and Fruit

Nepal: Cinnamon, Fruit and Nuts

North Africa: Ras al Hanout, Preserved Lemon, Fruit

North East Africa: Garlic, Cumin and Mint

Northern Europe: Butter, Sour Cream, Dill and Caraway

Persia: Cumin, Cardamom, Saffron and dried fruit

Poland: Chicken Fat, Onion and Cabbage

Scandinavia: Lard, Sour Cream, Dill, Horseradish and Caraway

Spain: Olive Oil, Garlic, Onion, Pepper, Tomato, Paprika and Capsicum

Switzerland: Pork Fat, Butter, Cheese and White Wine

Thailand: Fishsauce, Gapi, Palm Sugar, Tamarind, Kaffir Lime, Coriander and Chilli

Vietnam: Fishsauce, Lemongrass, Pickled Garlic and Lemon

West Africa: Tomato, Peanut and Chilli

Yemen: Tomato, Dried Fish and Cinnamon


Combine these flavour profiles with the appropriate cooking methods and staples and you have a ‘cultural insight’ into the relevant cuisine.

Bon Appetit.


If this short article inspires you to read more on the subject then I suggest ‘Ethnic Cuisine’ by Elisabeth Rozin, Penguin Books, ISBN 0 14 046.931 1