When we experience these five basic categories of taste, our favourite foods come alive with personality.
Those of us with a sweet tooth look forward to the words “Dessert is served.” But it doesn’t take dessert to satisfy a sweet tooth. Some people enjoy foods naturally sweet, such as honey, mango, carrots, milk, raisins and dates.
Sometimes you have to take the bitter with the sweet. Even though it seems counterintuitive, many of us enjoy bitter foods and beverages, including coffee, unsweetened cocoa, marmalade, beer and bitters. And with a touch of a sweet ingredient such as honey or cane syrup to take the edge off, bitter doesn’t seem so bad.
The word immediately brings to mind some of our much-loved snacks and main dishes. Cheese and crackers, mixed nuts and many of our favourite recipes taste better with a little dash of salt.
It’s the acidic taste in foods. Some foods such as fruit are just naturally sour. Take grapefruit, lemons, cranberries and kumquats, for example. The sweet news about sour ingredients such as lemon and vinegar is that they can balance out other flavours in food.
In Japanese, the word means “delicious,” and umami is best compared to the savoury taste of meat. You’ll find the taste of umami in aged cheeses, asparagus, poultry, red meat, ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, soy sauce, grains and beans.
When we combine seemingly contrasting flavours, our food takes on a new, more interesting personality. Here are just a few ways we combine some of the five basic tastes in recipes:
Peanut butter and strawberry preserves. Home baked French fries with organic ketchup. Melon with prosciutto. These are just a few of our favourites. You can make your own snack mix with dried goji berries (or other berries), dark chocolate chips, Kashi* Nutty Chia Flax cereal (naturally sweet) and your favourite nuts. Nuts on their own can be the perfect salt-sweet combo, as well. Try combining small spoonful’s of rosemary, salt and cayenne with Demerara sugar in a small bowl and use it to coat your favourite nuts to create a classic crunchy appetizer.
Many Asian foods combine sweet, sour, salty and bitter with a good dose of spice thrown in. Traditional recipes say it all — coconut and lime soup, pad Thai with sweet vegetables, chicken stewed in soy sauce and sweet jasmine rice. Even the condiments throw in sweet and sour — sweet chili sauce and salty fish sauce.
Indian cooking is similar to Asian because it incorporates many tastes at once, including sweet and bitter along with colourful spices such as the traditional curry. Cumin seeds, a key ingredient in curry recipes, give Indian dishes a bitter, nutty taste and a powerful aroma that many people associate with Indian food. A good curry recipe could also include sweeter spices such as ginger and cinnamon, and contrasting spices like mustard, dried chilies and fennel seeds.
Classic tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, tofu stuffed peppers, bread pudding — there’s just something about the contrasting combination of sweet and savoury that tickles our taste buds.
It’s earthy, savoury and rich to the taste. Chefs braise, roast, stew and sear meats to bring out the umami. For example, searing creates a well-done crust on the outside of fish. Any food that’s aged, fermented or cured —including cured meats, sourdough bread and wine — also tends to be rich in this taste.