flavorTaste

Our tongue can only register 5 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, & umami.

What is Taste?

Our tongue can only register 5 tastes: , , , , & .

Why does taste matter?

Although aroma is more important for our perception of flavor, tastes make up the base seasoning and balance of recipes. Every ingredient has one or more tastes, and knowing how they contribute to a dish is crucial for adjusting and substituting.

How do we experience taste?

We experience the taste of ingredients through taste receptors on the tongue. Ingredients are made up of different molecules, vitamins, and minerals that register as different tastes. For example:

  • The salt mineral will register as .
  • Glutamates, the specific amino acid sequences, register as .
  • Simple sugar register as .

Balancing tastes in cooking

In cooking, we strive to balance an overall dish by either complimenting or contrasting tastes:

Complimenting: A fried rice or a cacio e pepe are and .
Contrasting: A mango sorbet is and .
Complimenting and contrasting: A citrus and kale salad might be , , and all at once.

Sweet

If you see an ingredient with the tag, know that it adds sweetness, and might balance bitter or sour tastes. It can be substituted for any similar-tasting ingredient.

Example foods

  • Cane sugar
  • Ripe berries
  • Roasted carrots

Bitter

If you see an ingredient with the tag, know that it adds adds bitterness, and might help balance tastes (especially sweet flavors) or add complexity. It can be substituted for any similar-tasting ingredient.

Example foods

  • Charred cabbage
  • Swiss chard, kale, and arugula
  • Dark chocolate
  • Coffee

Umami

If you see an ingredient with the tag, know that it adds umami, boosts savoriness in a dish, & can balance bitter flavors. It can be substituted for other umami-rich ingredients.

Umami, or a meaty “savoriness”, is the newest of the 5 tastes — only in the last century was it recognized as a distinct taste recognizable by the human tongue.

  • Umami is different from saltiness. A potato chip is salty, but a deeply browned steak is umami/savory.
  • The umami flavor is bolstered and often created by the .

Example foods

  • Mushrooms
  • Seared meat
  • MSG, seaweed, and kombu
  • Fish sauce
  • Parmigiano Reggiano

Salty

If you see an ingredient with the tag, know that it adds saltiness and/or enhances existing flavors. It can be substituted for any similarly salty ingredient.

Salt brings fundamental seasoning by amplifying other flavors. If taken too far, a dish begins to taste salty on its own.

Example foods

  • Kosher salt
  • Soy sauce
  • Cotija cheese
  • Capers

Sour

If you see an ingredient with the tag, know that it adds acidity, brightens flavors, and helps balance sweetness or bitterness. It can be substituted for any similar-tasting ingredient.

Example foods

  • Vinegar
  • Fermented foods or bread
  • Pickles
  • Wine
  • Citrus juice

Embrace the Five Tastes