8 Weird Food Combos That Are Surprisingly Good

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Humans rarely accept the status quo for long. Ever seeking to learn, push our boundaries, and gain more knowledge, our ancestors’ adventurous spirit has been passed down through the ages, with our expanding palates being no exception. Some daring soul in history was the first to pair peanut butter with jelly, or the first to put cheese on a burger, or even the first to sauce pasta with a puree of tomato. Like Galileo, who was criticized for daring to believe the earth revolved around the sun, these souls made their mark in history by taking what once was deemed a weird, unlikely pairing and turning it into a dish we cherish for generations.

True, not all of the combinations have stood the test of time. We may have gone a little too far putting everything into jello molds in the 50s, but that doesn’t mean the desire to seek out new flavor combinations has left us entirely. We all have that one friend with the odd sandwich preference they will tirelessly defend as “actually really good,” or the spouse whose once-shocking habits we finally shrug off and accept or perhaps even find ourselves enjoying. Pregnancy cravings are accepted as a free pass for weird food combos, but we rarely dive deeper into why these pairings are so satisfying. Sure, some of it boils down to preference, but a rhyme and reason exists for making surprisingly pleasant food combinations.

 Think of the first guy to put pineapple on pizza; let’s call him Sam. The addition of pineapple may have come on a whim, but the science behind it is solid, whether Sam realized it or not. We think of taste in various segments – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and most recently added, umami. Think of umami as a savory richness, one we would associate with meat or a good flavorful broth. Any weird but good combination will play off the balance between the flavors, like sweet, sour pineapple combined with salty Canadian bacon and bitter-sweet tomato sauce under a melty, savory cheese that provides a blanket of umami flavor. To Sam’s credit, he had the formula right. 

When you want to play with weird food combinations and get them to taste good, start with a base you already know tastes good. If you want people to experiment with something new, tie it to something they know. Let’s take a closer look at more weird and wonderful combos and see

Why It’s Good to Experiment with Food?

Hawaiian pizza is not without its detractors, but the idea of pushing the limits of culinary possibility did not end with its creation either. Even now, Chefs and home cooks are on a quest to find new combos and spark the next big flavor trend. 

hawaiian pizza

This exploration into the unknowns of ingredients and ethnic dishes pushes us to delve deeper into world cuisines and the flavors they incorporate. Expanding our understanding of the odd combinations in the world presents an opportunity to better understand the cuisines and cultures our dishes come from, elevating our palates, fostering culinary creativity, and allowing unlimited exploration.

How to Effectively Combine Food?

Not every pairing will be a sure-fire winner, however. Personal preferences aside, creating a delightful bite involves more than just throwing a few odd ingredients together. It’s about finding the harmony between the elements of flavor and balancing the textures of those ingredients. 

If a dish has all the right flavors but they are all the texture of mushy oatmeal, the balance is lost, just as a dish with a variety of textures can be ruined by all the components being too salty. To get your experimentation off on the right foot, there are a few basic guidelines for finding successful pairings.

Sweet & Savory

Sweet and savory is about as classic as it gets when it comes to flavor pairings. This pairing can be found high and low, from rich peanut butter with bright, sweet fruit jelly to earthy carrot cakes with light cream cheese icing. To make your own, use complimentary sweet ingredients that play off the most pronounced savory notes. 

Take a pungent goat cheese- rich, crumbly, with a sour tartness that stands out. Picking a sweet component, we want to balance the tart bite with something soothing and sweet. Using honey will balance the crumbled texture of the goat cheese with a velvety smooth quality, and the robust sweetness will hold up to the tart notes.

Creamy & Crunchy

Creamy with crunchy is a great place to start if we want to look more at texture pairings. Think of the creamy ingredient as the flavor leader. It’s the first pronounced flavor you will get from the bite, and the crunchy flavor will follow as the bite is chewed. How does that translate to creating the dish? 

Take avocado toast; a creamy avocado spread will be the first flavor to take hold, with the contrast and neutral flavor of the toast coming in a close second. Add a little crisp chopped bacon to the top, and that crunch will let the savory, salty bacon flavor follow up the back end of your bite.

avocado tost

Salty & Sweet

Another well-known flavor combination comes in the mix of salty and sweet. Look no further than the sea salt caramel craze, and you’ll realize how immersed we are in this combination in our daily lives. But don’t simply stop at sprinkling a little sea salt on your desserts; instead, look for salty components that can add an extra level to your dish. 

salted caramel

Instead of a regular caramel pudding with sea salt on top, use a little miso paste to add a salty element with a hint of umami and see what new flavor experiences unfold.

Experiment with the Unexpected

Use unexpected fruit pairings to create unique flavor combinations to elevate your savory dishes. We often leave fruit as a side dish or dessert, but the applications for savory dishes are vast. Strawberries pair excellently with balsamic vinegar, and grounding the sweet notes of the fruit and tart elements of the vinegar with earthy brussel sprouts makes for an unexpectedly delicious side dish for summer dinners. Or, make a side dish with watermelon, feta, mint, and tomato for a bright twist on a salad that plays off the salty-sweet pairing we know and love.

Play Around With the Classics

Aside from taking fruit from the “breakfast side dish” box, you can take other breakfast elements and turn your lunch and dinner dishes into creative pairing opportunities. Look at chicken and waffles, a classic mash-up of lunch and dinner. 

Add some hot pepper-infused honey instead of maple syrup, and you have a plate of elevated pairings that use the texture contrast between crispy chicken and soft waffles as well as flavor contrasts like sweet honey and hot peppers and savory chicken with sweet waffles, making a dish so captivating it’s becoming a restaurant staple on dinner menus nationwide.

8 Weird Food Combinations You Will Like

Discovering the next great food pairing isn’t about looking for the weirdest ingredients or most exotic flavors you can find. Instead, it’s about understanding the elements you work with and how they play off each other. If you are ready to leap into a world of unconventional marriages of flavor, here are a few adventurous combinations to surprise your taste buds and elevate your plates.

Peanut Butter and Pickles

Admittedly, the first thing I did when reading about this pair was raid my own pantry. It shouldn’t make sense. Or should it? Let’s break it down. We know texture contrasts can be a good thing, and we have that going on with our rich, creamy peanut butter and crisp, juicy pickle. On the flavor ends, we have the savory peanut butter, which we frequently balance with sour and tart notes in various jellies. 

peanut butter and pickles

Instead, we have the pickle, which takes the tart and tangy notes from jelly to new levels. The harmony between the peanut butter and pickles exists at a satisfying extreme, familiar while still an explosion of unexpecting yet delicious flavors.

Popcorn with Chocolate Drizzle and Sea Salt

Think of it as kettle corn, but fancy. Popcorn is a pretty blank canvas, and we are used to butter, salt, and even caramel on our popcorn- so this combination shouldn’t be too crazy for even the more reserved adventurers. Pop your corn kernels as usual, but let them cool slightly before elevating your dish by drizzling with chocolate and sprinkling with sea salt. 

The salty-sweet combination uses the crunch of popcorn and salt with the soft chocolate for a tempting snack. Using semi-sweet or dark chocolate will add a touch of bitterness for those who like a less-sweet treat.

Salami and Grapes

Fruit is in the spotlight again. Thanks to the rising popularity of charcuterie boards, grapes are now paired with more than cheese and wine. Aged salami balances the fresh sweetness of grapes with its savory saltiness and velvety fat. 

salami with grapes

The play between savory and sweet can elevate your essential meat and cheese tray and make for a fantastic and easy appetizer. Use a toothpick to skewer rolled salami and a large grape for easy finger food to surprise and delight your guests!

French Fries Dipped in Milkshake

I was first introduced to this combination while working my first fast-food gig as a teenager. It existed, I thought, as a cult-classic dish. Beloved by every fast-food working friend I knew and unknown to all of our parents. 

Salty, sweet, and indulgent, it takes what we know about texture and flavor combinations and adds an irresistible new level: temperature. Hot, salty, crispy, and savory fries play against a cold, creamy, sweet milkshake for simple decadence. Try any flavor milkshake you wish, but vanilla is a great choice.

Tuna Salad and Fruit Punch

Hear me out. It’s weird. It’s unexpected. It’s actually pretty good. To explain why this combination works, take each component back to the basics. Tuna is the basis of tuna salad, and fruit punch consists largely of pineapple juice. 

Tuna and pineapple don’t sound too bad. We have teriyaki marinades that use pineapple all the time or pineapple salsa, which is widely used as a condiment. At this level, it works. Tuna is rich and fishy, and pineapple is bright and acidic. 

When we add the rest of the components to make tuna salad what it is, it is still rich, savory, and fishy. A side of fruit punch has that same complimentary brightness and acidity, and if you feel adventurous, you can dip your sandwich in it and have the full experience of this refreshing pairing.

Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup

Why keep your breakfast foods apart when they go so well together? Pancakes and maple syrup already have some savory-sweet qualities that pair so well, but topping your fluffy pancakes with crisp, crumbled bacon makes every bite a textural delight. You can even include ham or bacon pieces in your pancake batter for a filling and flavorful meal for lunch or dinner. The salty pieces of meat will break the monotony of sweetness to wake up your taste buds with each bite.

Grilled Cheese with Jelly

You don’t have to jump right to grape jelly with your next grilled cheese, but you certainly can! Sweet jellies pair well with savory cheeses; you can see examples of this on cheese boards all over. Apricot with blue cheese, cherry and brie, cheddar, and apple are all combinations that have shown up in classic dishes through the years. 

A great first step into this world of grilled cheese pairing is to use a roasted red pepper jam with your regular grilled cheese, from there you can play with endless combinations of cheeses and jams to find your perfect balance of sweet or tart with savory and salty.

grilled cheese with jelly

Blueberry and Basil Pizza

Fruit and basil is a tale as old as time. Sweet fruit and savory herbs are a dessert staple, but moving them to a pizza preparation takes this combination from classic to weird. We aren’t saying to throw blueberries on your next supreme pizza. 

Still, using blueberries and basil intentionally on your next pizza could be inching into the “best thing since Hawaiian pizza” category. To make this creation at home, take a play on the classic Margherita pizza topped with tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Both blueberry and tomato have some acidic, sour qualities. 

Tomatoes fall more on the savory side, while blueberries fall more on the sweet side. In that way, they will complement each other well. Basil and mozzarella will provide herbal, floral notes and a rich, savory quality that will complement the tart characteristics of the blueberries and tomato sauce.

Tips For Making Yourself Open to Experiment with Food Combinations

Pushing your limits to discover new flavors and expand your culinary horizons doesn’t happen overnight. It takes effort and motivation to explore flavor unknowns, but getting started can be as easy as a few steps:

  • Start Small: Like Sam and his pineapple pizza, it doesn’t take reinventing the wheel. Sometimes, it’s just about seeing what happens when you replace one small part. Starting with familiar items and adjusting one flavor here or there will help you understand how single changes impact overall flavors.
  • Embrace Your Curiosity: Try it out if you think a specific flavor might work well! But don’t expect a winner every time. Much of the experimentation that ends in a great new combination goes through many not-so-great combinations to get there. Being willing to try new things with an open mind will let you explore new worlds of flavor and discover many great flavors across cultures.
  • Look For Some Inspo: New and exciting combinations rarely happen from inside your comfort zone. Explore cookbooks, blogs, and cultural food content creators that use flavors or combinations that spark your interests. Take those ingredients and techniques and see how to implement them in your culinary adventures.
  • Play Around: Experiment in the kitchen and place fun and enjoyment above creating a five-star meal each time. Take a chance and try something new when inspiration strikes, using what you know about flavors and textures to see what boundaries can be pushed today.

What Food You Shouldn’t Combine?

Understanding what doesn’t play well together on a plate can be just as important as understanding what does. A few potential combination conflicts can negatively impact your culinary creations, and understanding what those are can help prevent any undesirable outcomes.

Fruits and Dairy

The high acidity in fruit can have the effect of curdling dairy products, like how lemon juice is added to milk to make it curdle into cheese. Great if you are trying to make cheese, but not so great if you are trying to keep your dairy’s creamy, rich qualities intact. 

citrus and dairy combo

Adding whole fruit to yogurt is fine, as the thickness of the yogurt doesn’t curdle when the fruit is added, but if you are making a soup or sauce with a milk or cream base, you will want to be careful of what kind of citrus is added, to avoid curdling and sour tastes.

Starchy with Acidic Foods

Starchy foods, like potatoes, pasta, and rice, tend to soak up a lot of flavor from the items they are paired with. This is great for a well-balanced pasta sauce or gravy, but if you’ve ever had a potato salad with too much vinegar, you know the sour taste can permeate everything if it’s added with a heavy hand. Be careful when adding highly acidic ingredients like vinegar and citrus to your starchy foods; remember, less is more when adding them in.

Dairy and Spicy Foods

But isn’t milk the go-to solution to cool down your mouth from spicy foods?! Yes and no. A little sour cream on a spicy taco can help to temper the heat of a bite of food, but chugging that milk after downing your hot wings can also work to exacerbate the heat when it hits your stomach, which can cause heartburn or discomfort. Pair these with caution.

High-Protein Foods and Fruits

This is another case of too much of a good thing can cause harm. Too much high-acid fruit will contain enzymes that can break down and affect your protein’s texture. A good example is marinating chicken in lemon or lime juice. 

If marinated for a brief period, the flavor can be good, but if left in the marinade too long, the acidity in the citrus can break down the structure of the chicken, giving it a relatively soft and mushy texture, even when cooked.

Expanding Your Taste with Unexpected Food Mixes

Exploring weird yet delicious food combinations is more than finding the craziest bite. It allows for an understanding of the science of food and the broadening of culinary horizons. 

Experimenting means invigorating your palate with flavors from across the world and developing an appreciation for creatively combining ingredients, new and old. So, why not take the plunge? 

food experiments

The next weird and crazy culinary discovery could be yours to create. As we embrace these challenges, we deepen our understanding of global cuisines and push the boundaries of what we might typically consider breakfast, lunch, and dinner, turning each meal into a thrilling adventure.

Bottom Line

Whether looking for the next best combo or trying something new and fun, exploring different and delicious flavor combinations is a great way to foster creativity in the kitchen. Use your knowledge of flavors and textures to craft unconventional culinary creations that excite and surprise you. 

Like Sam, embrace the adventure of experimenting with your food—it’s not only a way to spice up your meals but also an opportunity to craft extraordinary culinary experiences that could become your new favorites. Each dish becomes a delightful surprise, inviting you to enjoy and explore food in innovative ways, enriching both your palate and your culinary skills.

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Related FAQ’s

Start by switching to one flavor in a familiar dish. Think about what makes the new flavor or ingredient similar to other ingredients you know and enjoy and how the latest flavor will add or elevate the flavors you are familiar with.

Absolutely! They don’t all need to be used at once, but switching one component of a meal with a fun combination is a great way to add excitement to your everyday meals. Try changing a standard lunch sandwich to a fun grilled cheese with jam, or serve salami and grapes with dinner.

Think about the flavor profiles you are working with. Do the flavors of the ingredients complement each other? If one is overly salty, is it paired with something with pronounced sweetness, or are you pairing it with a salty-sweet ingredient that will exacerbate the salty qualities?

Compare them to familiar combos they know and love. If they are skeptical about dipping fries in a milkshake, think of how similar the qualities of fries are to things like doughnuts or pie crust, both starchy components that are well-suited to pair with ice cream.

Consider the components of flavors – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami/savory – and ensure they are all represented in the dish. For instance, if a component is too bitter, add sweetness to balance. The same applies to textures; if a dish comprises all soft ingredients, how can you achieve the same flavor with a crunchier texture to balance?

Generally speaking, the more variety we eat, the wider the array of vitamins and minerals we get from our food. We are what we eat, and playing with combinations that encourage the consumption of whole fruits, vegetables, and proteins is a great way to gain health benefits along the way.

Combining sweet items with salty or savory components is the easiest way to entice picky eaters. Take an item you know they love, and see what interesting combinations you can make. If you find one they enjoy, think of how you can use those ingredients in other combinations that encourage trying new foods.

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