New sensory science research into the optimal flavor compatibility of pork may provide some clues as to why pork complements fruits and vegetables so well.[1]

A sensory analysis commissioned by the National Pork Board shows that pork has more than 110 unique flavor nuances (111, to be specific) while pork fat has around 30 flavor nuances, highlighting versatility in flavor and texture of cuts and preparation methods. Some of pork’s world of flavors includes sweet, fruity and floral tones, clove, hazelnut and mushrooms. Pork also hits on all the basic tones including sweet, salty, acidic, umami and kokumi.

Lean pork had the most intense, umami flavor compared to other plant and animal proteins. Lead investigator, Lisbeth Ankersen of InnovaConsult, suggests that, “The flavor notes we identified in this analysis, like mushroom, walnut, coconut and clove, are what make pork so unique as a friend to all foods and a uniter of worlds of flavors together.”

The flavor of pork fat was found to have more nuances than fat from beef or vegetables (canola and olive oil) and most ‘juicy’ and ‘sweet’ pork cuts included Air Fryer Pork Tenderloin and Roasted Pork Roast.

Flavors Embrace Cross-Cultural Tastes

While lean pork was described as having the most “umami,” both lean and high fat pork fat also contained a new flavor called “kokumi,” which is a Japanese word to describe “rich taste” or “delicious”; it’s a taste sensation different than the basic five taste attributes.

So, the sensation people get from eating pork is rich, full of body and complex, and that could be one of the key reasons why pork is best served with everything across many different cultural tastes.

In fact, pork is one of the most widely eaten meats in the world[2] and fits into many different cultural cuisines through a wide variety of delicious recipes that provide a key source of high-quality affordable protein and under consumed nutrients that is well positioned to meet global protein demand.[3]

Dr. Kristen Hicks-Roof, the Director of Human Nutrition for the National Pork Board and Registered Dietitian, suggests this sensory evaluation will encourage new culturally-relevant recipe development and inform optimal cooking methods and food pairings that maximize the nutrition pork brings with it when it’s on the plate.  

“This analysis not only lets us pinpoint the best cooking methods to make sure pork’s unique flavor profile shines no matter if a top chef or mom is preparing it, but also gives us a roadmap for pairing plants with pork to make sure eating healthy does not have to be boring and flavorless. Pork can help serve as the flavor vehicle to enhance any dish!,” says Dr. Hicks-Roof.  

Use the pork pairings flavor wheel as your guide to experience a ‘world of flavors’.

Fresh Pork Aligns with Top Purchasing Decisions

To compliment this new sensory analysis, a recent look at proprietary shopping data shows that when pork is in grocery carts, more than 70 percent of shoppers also include produce purchases, adding to the body of evidence confirming pork as a carrier food that brings more plants to the plate.[4]

These results aren’t surprising when it comes to pork. When shoppers are surveyed, they report a strong belief that meat is part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, with 74% of meat eaters endorsing this view.[5] In fact, the top reasons impacting purchase decisions, taste and flavor come in at number 2, with nutrition following at number 3 and value at number 4 (price holds the number one spot), all of which align with fresh lean pork as a great option.

Because of the unique flavors of lean pork, it’s also time to dispel the myth that lean cuts of pork are “flavorless” and should be paired with produce to make complete, flavor-packed meals. The sensory analysis found that most distinctly, when comparing the fat from lean pork and fat pork, lean pork stands out as the most intense, umami flavor. So, lean pork cuts are perfectly positioned to meet the top 5 demand reasons impacting consumer purchase decisions. Try air frying pork to bring out its ‘juicy’ and ‘sweet’ flavor notes especially when paired with bitter or bland vegetables like brussels sprouts, green beans or broccoli.

Nutritionally speaking, every 3-ounce serving of cooked lean pork such as pork tenderloin, brings more than 20 grams of protein to a recipe.6 Pork tenderloin is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including thiamin, selenium, niacin, riboflavin, B6 and B12, and is certified heart-healthy by the American Heart Association. [6],[7]

The Flavors of Pork + Plants from Around the Globe

“Around the world, pork is a top protein choice,” says, Dr. Hicks-Roof. “I’m just loving these new findings that help me illustrate the reasons why pork belongs on the plate. Not just for its nutritional benefits, but as both an essential component to a great taste and flavor experience, and a carrier food that encourages a balanced diet with under consumed foods like fruits or vegetables in cuisines worldwide.”

When you look around at common cultural dishes worldwide, you see pork widely, accompanied by fruits, vegetables, and grains. Pork can be an ideal pairing with foods that many are encouraged to consume more of (e.g. fruits and vegetables), both here in the United States and abroad. Check out our Pork+Plants World of Flavors wheel to see just that and to get some inspiration for your next culinary adventure!

[1] Ankersen, Lisbeth. (2024) Comprehensive Sensory and Flavor Nuances of Pork Protein and Fat.

[2] Meat consumption. OECD data website. Accessed March 25, 2024.

[3] Drewnowski A. Perspective: The place of pork meat in sustainable healthy diets. Adv Nutr. 2024:100213.

[4] Internal Report by National Pork Board. Numerator Insights. January 22, 2024.

[5] The 19th Annual Power of Meat study was conducted by 210 Analysis on behalf of FMI – the Food Industry Association and the Meat Institute Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education.

[6] U.S. Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central, 2019. NDB# 10093. 3 U.S. Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central, 2019. NDB# 10216 4 U.S. Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central, 2019. NDB# 10061 

[7] Flavor at the Heart of Every Healthy Diet. NPB website. Accessed March 25, 2024.