Have you ever wondered how similar or different the food in two countries are?
The Country Similarity Food Index is an attempt to quantify how similar the food in one country is relative to another. For example, one might intuitively know that the food in Poland is more like the food in Germany than the food in Vietnam.
Food similarity can be highly subjective, so the analysis is primarily based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which tracks the supply of food available for human consumption in each country. By comparing the weight of raw food ingredients used in each country, a score is assigned that reflects the degree of similarity between the respective countries. No drinks, such as milk, beer, or orange juice, are included in the score.
The first iteration put too great of a weight on the largest ingredients of diets. The second iteration put too little of a weight on animal products, like meat and dairy. The revised Index applies a square root transformation to the data. It also relies on averaging two methods of calculation. Method 1 is unweighted data (except for applying a 30% minimum to the starches total). Method 2 weights the data at 30% for starches, 40% for fruits and vegetables, and 30% for meats and dairy. This technique was found to produce the most logical results in most cases.
Overemphasizing starches disregards other common ingredients. At the same time, weighting different food groups equally may ignore the fact that some countries eat far less meat or fruits than other countries. Typically less affluent countries eat more starches and less meat.
There are quite a few caveats to this analysis. Some of the data collection may be slightly inconsistent as countries have different methods of reporting and estimating. Moreover, some countries have more reliable data than others. Furthermore, since the data is based on the weight of the ingredients, spices that have a big effect on flavor may not be fully captured. This analysis also does not take into account the method of food preparation. For example, the ingredient wheat is used to make both bread and pasta.
In addition, different regions of countries can have wildly different cuisine. China is one good example. The traditional food in Sichuan Province is far different from the food in Shanxi Province. In Shanxi, noodles are commonly eaten with vinegar. In contrast, Sichuan is famous for its use of spicy chili peppers and their meals often served with rice.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that traditional cuisine from one country can be enjoyed in another due to the globalization of food. For example, due to immigration, there are many Turkish restaurants in Germany, many Chinese restaurants in Malaysia, and many Italian restaurants in the United States. This has allowed people from diverse cultural backgrounds to grow an appreciation for foreign food.
Despite these faults, the Country Food Similarity Index has the potential to shed new light on the connections between macro-food traditions across the world. By quantifying the similarities and differences between the food supply of different nations, the first ever world map showing different distinct food regions will be created.