This apple flavor pairing guide will help you figure out what flavors are most compatible with apples.
Knowing these flavor pairings means endless combination possibilities to keep your tastebuds happy and your meals exciting and varied.
What is flavor pairing?
Ever wondered why caramel and apples work so well together?
Flavor pairing is matching foods together that have similar flavor profiles (or the same flavor compounds found in each ingredient).
These flavor pairings include produce, herbs, nuts and seeds, spices, sweeteners, grains, legumes, dried fruits, dairy/dairy-free items, proteins, and pantry items.
It’s easier to start experimenting in the kitchen when you know what flavors already pair well together.
Produce flavor pairings that work well with apple
- Celery root
- Chiles (chipotle, jalapenos)
- Cranberries (dried or fresh)
- Lemon (juice and zest)
- Lettuce (romaine, salad greens, sorrel, watercress)
- Plums (dried or fresh)
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash (acorn, butternut, delicata, etc)
Spice flavor pairings that work well with apple
- Black pepper
- Fennel seeds
- Mustard seeds
Herbs and apple flavor pairings
FRESH OR DRIED HERBS
Nuts & seeds for apple flavor pairings
- Pine nuts
- Caraway seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Sweeteners that work well with apple
- Brown sugar
- Maple Syrup
Grains that pair well with apple
- Amaranth – gluten-free
- Kasha (toasted buckwheat) – gluten-free
- Millet – gluten-free
- Quinoa – gluten-free
- Rice (basmati, brown, wild) – gluten-free
- Wheat berries
Non-dairy/dairy flavors that pair well with apple
- Sour cream
Protein & apple flavor pairings
Pantry item flavor pairings for apple
- Dried fruit: cranberries, currants, dates, prunes, raisins
- Peanut butter
- Phyllo dough
- Red wine
- Apple cider vinegar
There are over 7,500 varieties of apples. Many of the less well-known varieties will have to be trial and error as to where they fall on the tart-sweet scale.
The sweeter the apple is, the more water it contains. That’s why when you bake tart granny smith apples, they release less water during the cooking process.
It also explains why you’re typically going to reach for a honeycrisp or fuji apple over a granny smith. The honeycrisp and fuju apples are juicier (and sweeter as well).
Some popular varieties are:
Fuji – sweet
Gala – sweet
Golden delicious – sweet
Granny smith – tart
Honeycrisp – sweet-tart
How to get started
The best way to start using this guide is by playing around with a couple of pairings. Keep it really simple until you feel more comfortable with this creative style of cooking.
Little by little, you can start to experiment with different flavor pairings, but just note that less is more, especially in cooking.
The more you get used to cooking this way, the more confident you’ll become in the kitchen, which will put your home cooking skills into overdrive.
Do you remember the most flavorful meal(s) you’ve ever had?
You probably could taste every ingredient without one flavor dominating the whole dish.
Typically, when you think back to some of the best meals you’ve had, the flavors were achieved with a few simple, yet balanced ingredients that complimented each other well.
Still feel overwhelmed with where to start?
Decide what you want to make. Will it be a dessert or a savory dish? Knowing the answer to this will help narrow down what you need to add next.
If you’re making a dessert, what else from the produce section would you add? Maybe rhubarb for that apple rhubarb pie or berries for an apple berry crisp.
Will the apple be the star of the dish or do you want to add more depth? Depending on what you choose, a good rule of thumb is to pick one or two more ingredients from the produce list.
Next, you want to add seasoning, so choose a couple of spices and/or herbs (dried or fresh) depending on what you’re making.
Continue through the categories and see what you’d like to add or leave out until you’re left with your chosen ingredients.
Now, all that’s left to do is grocery shop, assemble and bake or cook.
Here’s a flavor pairing example
To go with the apple berry crisp example from above, here’s what I’d add:
- blueberries or raspberries, or possibly both
- cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg from the spices
- pecans or walnuts (or leave out altogether)
- brown sugar for sweetness
- oats or kasha (buckwheat) for the topping
- non-dairy butter or coconut oil with topping ingredients
- vanilla to add extra flavor
- a pinch of salt to round out the sweetness (see the reminder below)
Salt and pepper aren’t included in the lists because it’s just a given that you always need to salt your food. (And yes, that includes desserts, too.)