Cooking Techniques

Flavor

Flavor Secrets: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami

A great dish relies on depth and balance. It’s a delicate dance between five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami and on occasion, spicy. Stocking your pantry shelves and your fridge with these ingredients will help you expand your culinary repertoire and make the most of the (sometimes unpredictable) harvest.

Sweet: Sugar is the primary sweet. Try brown sugar for richer flavor. Honey and maple syrup can also be used with radically different results.

Sour: Common sour ingredients are fruit, especially lemons, vinegar, wine and dairy products like yogurt and sour cream.

Salty: Salty mainly comes from, you guessed it, salt. Soy sauce, Dijon mustard and certain cheeses like Parmesan are also members of the family.

Bitter: The most sensitive taste, everyday bitter ingredients are coffee, cocoa, beer, citrus peel, olives and yogurt.

Umami: Umami means delicious or yummy in Japanese. It’s the most difficult taste to describe—savory, meaty—it stimulates the appetite. Greens, mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, beans and broths are umami. Fermented or aged ingredients like cheeses, shrimp paste and soy sauce are too.

Try balancing the five tastes in a simple salad dressing. All vinaigrettes follow a basic formula; one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon (the sour) to three tablespoons of olive oil plus a tablespoon of mustard or yogurt to thicken. Add a pinch of salt (the salty), pepper and turbinado sugar or dollop of honey (the sweet.) Toss on greens (the bitter and the umami.) Presto!

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