Certain pairings like wine and cheese or tea and biscuits delight our taste buds while also linking us to culture and history. Tracing the stories behind these matches provides a flavourful glimpse into the past.

A Bite into the PastMany famous food pairings have humble origins rooted in local traditions and historical events.
Sweet Meets Salty: Chocolate and Peanut ButterThe popular combo of chocolate and peanut butter originated in America and became a mass-market treat.
East Meets West: Sushi and WasabiSushi and wasabi reflect centuries of Japanese culinary tradition and became a global phenomenon.
Morning Magic: Coffee and CreamMixing coffee with dairy or cream became a morning ritual in America and Europe.
European Elegance: Cheese and WinePairing wine and cheese is deeply rooted in European gastronomic tradition and terroir.
Mediterranean Marvel: Olive Oil and BreadOlive oil and bread form the basis of Mediterranean cuisine and its health benefits.
Tropical Triumph: Pineapple and Ham (Hawaiian Pizza)The controversial Hawaiian pizza originated in Canada and became a global favorite.
Dessert Delight: Tea and BiscuitsDunking biscuits in tea is a 19th-century British tradition for afternoon tea and work breaks.
From History to Plate: Modern Takes on Classic CombosContemporary chefs put modern twists on classic pairings while preserving their essence.

A Bite into the Past

Many celebrated food duos emerged from grassroots traditions before conquering global palates. Their origins reveal the ingenuity and events shaping what we savour today.

A scroll unfurled with lots of food paitings on it

Introducing the journey of famous food pairings

Some pairings we consider classic weren’t always so. Many started as ingenious use of local ingredients, accidents of circumstance, or special occasion indulgences.

Foraging societies paired game with foraged fruits and vegetables. Ancient civilisations like Rome developed recipes integrating far-flung ingredients from conquests. Scarcity and abundance, trade routes, colonisation, religions – myriad forces shaped food evolution.

The cultural and historical events shaping our plates

Looking back illuminates why certain pairings resonated. A cheese course complementing wine was a sign of status in Europe. Sweet biscuits dunked in tea provided quick energy alongside a modest drink in Britain. And customs like Hawaiian pizza and Reese’s peanut butter cups reflected multiculturalism through fusion.

These stories give deeper meaning to how we eat today. Our tastes preserve memories and traditions linking us to the past.

Sweet Meets Salty: Chocolate and Peanut Butter

The favourite combo of chocolate and peanut butter originated in America, melding African origins with New World peanuts.

a chef assembling a chocolate and peanut butter dessert

The American classic’s origin story

The earliest known recipe for chocolate peanut butter cups appeared in the 1920s. But it was Wilbur Chocolate Company in the 1940s that registered the first “Peanut Butter Cup” trademark. The H.B. Reese Candy Company made their version and surged in popularity after World War II sugar rationing ended.

Peanut butter gradually transformed from a protein-rich meat substitute to sweet sandwich staple and confection. Combined with chocolate, its savoury nuttiness perfectly balances sweetness. Shelf-stable peanut butter blended with affordable chocolate made for the ideal mass market treat.

How this combo conquered taste buds worldwide

Once Hershey licensed production of Reese’s in 1963, it became the bestselling candy brand, now available worldwide. Peanuts sailed from South America to Spain then Africa before hitting American fields. Cocoa travelled from ancient Mesoamerica through Europe. Brought together, chocolate and peanut butter seduced 20th-century tastebuds.

That iconic foil package preserves a beloved flavour marriage embracing global commerce and appetites.

East Meets West: Sushi and Wasabi

Sushi and the fiery wasabi served alongside it reflect centuries of tradition evolving in Japanese culture.

a man assembling sushi with wasabi

Tracing back to Japan’s culinary traditions

Sushi arose in the early 19th century Tokyo as a fast, nutritious snack selling at street vendors. Wasabi’s pungent spice was valued for its kick and cleansed the palate between bites.

This takeaway fare became popular nationwide after the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 as easy food reconstruction workers could carry. Its eye-catching presentation and complex flavours made sushi an elegant restaurant mainstay by the 1980s, and finally a global phenomenon.

The spicy kick that complements delicate fish

Wasabi, a knobby root from the Japanese Alps’ mountain streams, grows scarce and difficult to farm. Today chefs commonly use horseradish and mustard oils for faux wasabi. But authentic wasabi’s touch of heat and bitterness highlights sushi’s delicate flavours.

Together, sushi and wasabi endured from ancient tradition to modern favourite, showcasing Japanese artistry.

Morning Magic: Coffee and Cream

The habit of mixing coffee with dairy or cream arose from early commercial decisions in America and Europe.

a couple enjoying coffee with cream

The roots of this global morning ritual

Legends say 9th century Ethiopian herder Kaldi first noticed his goats’ energetic dancing after eating coffee berries. By the 15th century, Arabs roasted and brewed coffee, sweetening it with sugar. The Ottoman Turks added milk to coffee in the 1600s.

Europeans initially denounced coffee as an addictive Muslim drink until the coffee house craze took off. The American coffee industry grew through cunning marketing playing on patriotism. Coffee and cream together became a morning ritual by the turn of the 20th century.

How cream became coffee’s best friend

Early coffee was black and bitter, sometimes sweetened with honey or molasses. As brewing methods evolved, Europeans added rich cream and milk to mellow coffee’s harshness.

In the Americas, canned milk gained favour as a shelf-stable addition. Coffee and milk together became a staple – the cream smoothing out bitter notes while coffee highlights dairy’s savoury sweetness. Their compatibility made the combo an enduring morning tradition.

European Elegance: Cheese and Wine

Pairing wine and cheese emerged from French and Italian gastronomic tradition, imparting essence of place.

an infographic of different cheeses and wines

The romance of vineyards and dairies across Europe

Grapes and dairy cows flourished across Europe’s landscapes. France alone has over 1000 types of cheese rooted in regional terroir. Intuitively, cheesemakers and vintners realised certain cheese and wine types complemented each other, whether the fresh and tangy or robust and complex.

This cheese course tradition spread through Europe. Guidelines emerged on harmonious pairings – soft cheeses with white wine, aged bold cheeses with equally hearty reds. Beyond flavour chemistry, this pairing encapsulates European craft and terroir.

Cultural festivals celebrating this duo

Specialised cheese and wine events highlight this relationship. The Cheesemonger Invitational pairs artisan cheesemakers with sommeliers. Monterey County’s Cheese and Wine Weekend offers tastings and farms tours. Tuscany’s Pecorino Cheese and Wine Festival centres on local sheep’s cheeses.

Understanding cheese and wine is both art and science. Their celebration encapsulates local tradition passed generationally in Europe.

Mediterranean Marvel: Olive Oil and Bread

The hearty combination of olive oil and bread forms the foundation of Mediterranean cuisine and health benefits.

a map of the world, with olive oils and bread dotted around it

The heart of ancient Mediterranean meals

Since 6000 BC, olive trees flourished around the Mediterranean. Olive oil became indispensable to Greece, Italy, and North Africa. Swirled over crusty bread, olive oil anchored frugal, farm-based diets.

Fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil also garnished salads, vegetables, fish and meat. This monounsaturated fat bolstered the largely plant-based Mediterranean diet later praised for its health benefits.

The spiritual and community significance

In Christian faiths, dipping bread in oil held religious meaning. Breaking and sharing oiled bread among family created community. The ubiquitous olive branch represented hope and peace.

Harvesting and pressing olives for the year’s oil united villages. Bread and olive oil signified sustenance and hospitality. Together they formed the essence of the Mediterranean table for millennia.

Tropical Triumph: Pineapple and Ham (Hawaiian Pizza)

Pizza purists scoff at fruit-topped Hawaiian pizza, but its fusion genesis explains its widespread appeal.

A rustic pizzeria setting from the 1960s with patrons enjoying the Hawaiian pizza, emphasizing its controversial yet popular nature.

The controversial pairing’s history

Pizza made its way from Naples to Canada by the 1940s. In 1962, Greek-Canadian restaurateur Sam Panopoulos decided to riff on Chinese dishes like sweet-salty chicken and pineapple. He swapped chicken for ham on pizza and struck gold.

Hawaiian pizza exploded in popularity in the 1980s as an unconventional flavour combination. Hawaiians initially didn’t consider the pizza authentically Hawaiian, but embraced the tropical ham and fruit pizza as its own fusion.

How it turned into a global favourite

The Hawaiian pizza controversy continues today. But its novelty and sweet-savoury interplay built its fame worldwide. It encapsulates globalisation in food and our insatiable appetite for new mashups.

Pineapple-topped pizza endures as the most popular international pizza topping combination. While purists scoff, millions savour this tropical-meets-Italian creation.

Dessert Delight: Tea and Biscuits

The tradition of dunking biscuits in piping hot tea arose in 19th century Britain as an energy-boosting ritual.

A watercolor depiction of a 19th-century British parlor, capturing the essence of the classic afternoon tea and biscuits tradition.

Britain’s afternoon tea tradition

As Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, experienced hunger pangs between the usual Victorian meals, she requested a pot of tea and small sandwich or cake in the late afternoon. The 1840s concept of afternoon teatime quickly spread through society.

Upper class ladies indulged in petite sandwiches and pastries with Darjeeling or Earl Grey tea in ornate china. For working Brits, quick breads and cookies dunked into builder’s tea fueled them through long days.

The biscuits that became a staple side

Efficient colonial-era ovens yielded crisp, double-baked biscuits that held up to hot tea. Crackers also substituted when flour was scarce. These hearty snacks eased hunger in a socially acceptable custom.

From posh social affairs to quick working class breaks, biscuits and tea evolved as a staple recharge. Dunking added flavour and fun, making black tea more palatable.

From History to Plate: Modern Takes on Classic Combos

Today’s chefs riff on famous pairings with contemporary twists while honouring their roots.

A contemporary upscale restaurant scene showcasing chefs meticulously crafting modern dishes. The foreground highlights a plate with a deconstructed peanut butter and chocolate dessert.

How chefs today honour these historical pairings

Restaurants worldwide celebrate traditional pairings by blending classics with modern flair, often tweaking ingredients and presentations while preserving their essence:

  • Deconstructed peanut butter and chocolate desserts
  • Wasabi creme fraiche and tuna tartare on rice cakes
  • Coffee-rubbed hanger steak with cashew crema
  • Wine gel and honeyed goat cheese bon bons
  • Olive oil cake with salted lemon glaze and fresh figs
  • Prosciutto and caramelised pineapple flatbread
  • Housemade biscotti with earl grey milk jam and teas

The fusion of tradition and innovation

By jazzing up textures, swapping ingredients, and updating plating, chefs make these combinations at once novel and familiar. The pairing foundations remain intact, but with an element of surprise that thrills modern diners.

This culinary homage keeps beloved dishes alive in new incarnations, preserving and advancing food stories for future generations.

By Mat Stuckey

Ex professional chef with a passion for cooking and unique flavours.

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