Flavour 101

Here’s my philosophy on food, I’m not saying I know everything I’m just giving you my opinion on what I think makes food taste sooooooo…. GOOD!

If it tastes good we carry on eating and sometimes go and get more because it’s scrumdiliumptious (if that’s even a word he he), you know what I mean scrumptious, delicious, tasty, sumptuous, yummy, finger licking good, Boom etc…

But why does some food taste scrumptious, moorish, delicious…. OK too much I know but I’m getting excited (“,)

It tastes luscious (sorry I had to) because our taste buds are activated with different hits of flavour all at once with every mouthful, and we’re also chewing on a contrast of textures and sometimes temperatures.

All of this is happening at the same time in our mouth creating a party for our tongue and senses where our tongue happily dances to the rhythm of each forkful/spoonful, chewing our food and signaling to our brain it wants more music to dance too or un-metaphorically more food to eat.

So that was my dreamy figurative I’m so excited about food flavour explanation, now here’s my straightforward but still so excited about food flavour one.

We have around 10,000 taste buds on our tongue and there are 5 known tastes that our taste buds can detected. The 5 taste regions on our tongue are

  • sweet
  • sour
  • salty
  • bitter
  • umami

But we don’t just taste our food with our taste buds our mouth and tongue also feels textures and senses varying temperatures in our food too

  • crispness/crunchiness
  • silky/smooth
  • hot/spicy
  • cooling

Lets look at each one a little more in depth

 

Sweetness

sweetness pink doughnutWhen I talk about sweetness I’m referring to things like sugar, honey, maple syrup etc…

Sweetness is the main reason why a dessert tastes phenomenal!

You need just the right amount of sugar no more and no less to bring out the best of the chocolate, lemon, caramel, strawberry or whatever flavour you are working with.

Sweetness tends to round out the flavour in a dish and balances the saltiness, sourness and bitterness.

Have you ever wondered why it’s tradition to eat desert after your meal?

It’s because sweetness satiates your appetite and gives you that full satisfied feeling. So there’s more to Mum and Dad’s eat your dinner first and then dessert rules.

Did you know the colder your food or drink is the less sweetness you can taste?

Next time you have or make a rice pudding put some of it in the fridge for a few hours to get really cold. Now serve up 2 portions one cold and one hot.

I bet the cold one wont taste as sweet as the hot one.

 

Sourness

sourness lemonI’ll sometimes refer to sourness as acidity because sourness is the taste that detects acidity. Sourness can be found things like lemon, lime or citrus juice, vinegar etc….

Sourness brightens up a dish.

Almost every dish needs some kind of acid to lift it up or it’ll end up tasting flat.

Have you ever had a good old hearty comforting stew, and afterwards felt a bit flat or blah….like you don’t want to move or as my husband says “he’s ready to roll”?

It’s the heaviness and richness of the stew that’s making you feel that way.

But, I have a solution squeeze a bit of lemon, and sprinkle some lemon zest on your stew before you eat, the citrus notes will not only add a zing to your meal but they’ll put a spring in your step when you have finished.

Next time you are cooking something rich and can’t quite put your finger on what your dish needs to make it sparkle think of those shower gel adverts on TV that claim their shower gel will ‘uplift, invigorate, stimulate and prepare you for whatever your day holds’ and their reason why? They have added lemon to their product.

And so should you!

Or vinegar

Or what ever kind of acidity tickles your fancy (“,)

 

Saltiness

saltyGood old Mr Salt, a friend of many,

natures natural flavour enhancer and the most important taste in making savory food delicious.

You are not just limited to your standard salt to achieve saltiness in a dish. Saltiness can also be found in

  • anchovies
  • capers
  • feta
  • olives
  • prosciutto

Just bear in mind though if you do use any of the above use them as well as salt to add another dimension of saltiness to your dish. Don’t use them instead of salt because your dish will end up tasting one dimensional.

Adding Salt to a dish can diminish the effects of sweetness, sourness and bitterness and it also has the ability to make other flavours POP! Especially in desserts. By using just the right amount of salt in say a chocolate mousse, you’re taking some of the richness away and brightening it up and making it taste waaaayyyyy…. better because now you’re opening the palate and stimulating even more taste buds.

But wait!

You can’t just add any amount of salt and hope for the best. There’s a knack to getting salt in desserts spot on and the secret lies in not making the salt obvious. You don’t want the person eating it to know it’s there, you want them to taste the full hit of  whatever flavour your dessert is.

Did you know salt stimulates salivation, which after you swallow leaves your mouth dry and in-turn makes you thirsty and that’s why bars serve salty nuts and snacks when you buy a drink so you can keep on purchasing?

 

Bitterness

bitter coffee beansBitterness is somewhat of an acquired taste being sharp and pungent. Bitterness is found in pure cocoa, coffee beans, some herbs, bitter greens, broccoli, rocket, citrus peel and the pith, grapefruit, bitters, beer, good quality olive oil, fresh olives picked off of an olive tree, trust me you don’t want to go there.

Bitter tasting foods on their own are sometimes not very appealing but when used with other flavours from different taste groups they can taste amazing. For example

  • adding sugar (sweetness) and cream to cocoa makes it 1,000,000 times better because indulgent ‘I can’t stop eating it’ chocolate is born
  • adding rocket to a rich steak and onion baguette not only cuts the richness but refreshes the palate, cleanising it and making you want to take another bite
  • orange marmalade is another tasty pairing example of sweetness (sugar) and bitterness (orange zest and pith)
  • my Mum used to drizzle some olive oil, squeezed some lemon juice and sprinkled salt over brocolli so so so…. delish! and all because of the balance between bitterness (broccoli and olive oil), sourness (lemon) and saltiness (salt)
  • A nice cold pint of beer served with a bowl of crunchy salted peanuts whilst watching the football is supposed to be the 1! I just can’t get my head or my taste buds around beer but salted peanuts and a cold bottle of water whilst watching the football is my 1! Each to their own (“,).

 

Umami

umami mushroomUmami, Yes it is a real word.

Umami means meaty or savory taste in Japanese.

Umami has been debated amongst scientists since 1908 and wasn’t recognised untill 1985 as the fifth flavour we taste.

It’s not a new flavour or ingredient it’s more like the missing piece to the puzzle or ingredient that makes a dish perfecto! I won’t go into the science of it but basically it’s like a meaty, savory, sometimes salty, rich dark earthy flavour.

It’s what enhances savory food!

If you still feel clueless and have no idea what I’m talking about here’s a few umami rich meal combinations that will hopefully make allot more sense and you wont leave here thinking of me as some kind of crazy food flavour lady and I bet when you read on you’ll see that you’ve already been eating umami rich flavor foods without even realising it (“,)

A cheese burger isn’t a cheese burger without ketchup and if you haven’t got ketchup to sink your chips into there’s no point in eating plain dry chips. The magic ingredient isn’t the ketchup though it’s the actual tomatoes inside that, = umami

A ‘TLT’ have I got you baffed? Me too! I just made it up it’s a turkey , lettuce and tomato sandwich sounds nice but…. it’s missing that bit of je ne sais quoi and the reason it isn’t a world wide hit. Lets take it up a notch and sub the turkey for smokey bacon yeah you know what I’m talking about a ‘BLT’ a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Tomatoes are umami but it’s the smokey bacon that’s taken the umami over the edge and why the ‘BLT’ is known world wide or world renowned

If you went to a restaurant and ordered a plate of spaghetti bolognese, and the waiter bought you just spaghetti bolognese and then said “enjoy your meal” would you ask “can I have some cheese please?” you know you would, well if you like cheese that is. Cheese lovers know spaghetti bolognese without a shaving of parmesan or a sprinkling of any kind of cheese isn’t proper real spaghetti bolognese. Adding cheese to your bolognase sauce which also contains tomatoes which are also packed with umami flavours is the cherry on top to a prefect spaghetti bolognese. All cheese has umami qualities but parmesan cheese is probably one of the highest umami ingredients out their.

Let me tell you a funny story. My husband a meat fanatic always wants meat in every meal so when I did a 21 day vegan detox he said he’d join me but he wanted some kind of meat with his meals too. I thought great easier for me as I don’t have to prepare and cook 2 different meals just an extra side of meat and he would also be there to experience this new journey I was on. Well one of the recipes was a cauliflour pizza topped with an assortment of vegetable, seeds and mushrooms.

I had an idea!

A sneaky idea!

But a good Idea! he he he he

I had read that mushrooms were umami many times and that they bought an elememt of meatiness to a dish and thought i’d  try serving him this 100% vegan pizza without any meat

Yes you read right WITHOUT ANY MEAT!

This was a risk but a risk I was willing to take to see if I could trick him and have a laugh.

I made sure I pimped up the flavours to his liking, with loads of chilli and garlic.

Then the hard part came, bringing him his food without smiling from ear to ear and at the same time not acting suspicious. Well….

He ate it….

He liked it….

and he wanted more!

He ate more….

cleared his plate and said

“that was good. one of the best recipes from the detox”

I couldn’t help but laugh and ask “do you know what meat was on your pizza?”

He hesitated and said “ummmm…. there wasn’t any was there? It didn’t need it”

I guess the humble mushroom played it’s role rather well in imitating his flashier friend Sir meat-alot.

And in regards to my husbands hesitation when I asked if he knew what meat was on the pizza, he didn’t know he’s just a quick thinker when put on the spot and put it all together.

 

Texture – Crispness/Crunchiness Vs Silky/Smooth

crunchiness nachoscreamy creamCrispy Nachos dipped into a smooth salsa makes you dip and bite dip and bite

Smooth silky cod wrapped in a crispy crunchy batter is the reason that every country has their own version of battered fish

A crunchy hazelnut praline shard balancing over a smooth velvety creamy fig panacotta breaks up the monotony of the panacotta and gives it a new dimension

And the reason why all cheesecakes have a crumbly base and a rich creamy smooth top

It’s the contrast in texture!

Paying attention to the different textures in a dish can determine whether the dish is a success or not.

It can be as simple as sprinkling some crunchy croutons over a hot bowl of creamy soup or crumbling a biscuit or even cereal over a velvety smooth yogurt to achieve this textural balance.

 

Temperature – Hot/Spicy Vs Cooling

hotness chilicooling iceYou have to be a smart cook to be able to introduce the flavour of chili rather than just the punch and smack, the chili should shine through.

Hot/spicy dishes are delicious because they excites the senses by activating the pain receptors on our tongue. But too much can be a bit overwhelming and numbing to our taste buds so the only way to carry on enoying this painful sensation and the rest of the flavours  in our meal is by adding a cooling element to act as a fire extinguisher to re awaken our taste buds.

Some people like the full wham bam thank you mam hit from a chili others a little less just remember in any recipe you follow adjust the chili to cater to your or guests liking. A recipe isn’t set in stone, you should always taste and season as you go. Look at a recipe as an empty building and you have the final say on the furniture and decor, flavour and seasoning.

Raw red onions in a Greek salad have their kick soften when you eat a piece of cooling feta cheese and the reason why these two ingredients marry well together in salads, crisps, sandwiches, pies etc…. They compliment eachother so well taking the mouth on a roller coaster journey, up and up with the burn from the onion and woosh… straight back down with the mellowing feta cheese. So so addictive mmmm…. mmmm…. mmmm….

Temperature doesn’t have to involve chili. Temperature can also be played around with hot and cold elements like

  • hot apple pie and ice cream
  • a cup of hot chocolate hidden under a squirting of whipped cream
  • Baked Alaska – ice cream and cake covered by a blanket of flambeed meringue

 

In a “wal” nut shell

When all these elements are taken into consideration when preparing a dish be it sweet or savory, salty or bitter and care has been taken to strike a balance in flavour, texture and temperature by using opposites to compliment each other that’s when a magnificent dish and chef is born.

Don’t worry if you don’t like certain ingredients, are allergic to certain things or don’t have specific elements of a recipe available. I’ll try my best to off as much variety and alternatives as possible so everyone from all over the world can make their food “all about the flavour!”.

 

Interesting Fact

Our nose also helps in how we taste our food. When we chew, our food releases chemicals that travel up into our nose and trigger the receptors in there. These receptors work together with our taste buds to create the exact flavour of our food by telling our brain. Without our nose the true flavour of a meal would be masked just like when you have a blocked nose, food seems to have less flavour.

Here’s a fun quick experiment you can do with your family and friends to see the noses important role in how we taste flavour.

Try holding your nose whilst you eat something. You’ll notice if it’s salty for instance but you won’t be able to pin point the exact flavour until you let go of your nose.

 

gg tip: When flavouring a dish  Remember you can always add to a dish but you can’t take away so add a little of your ingredient, taste, add a bit more if needed and keep going like that until you reach your desired flavour.

 

Kali orexi! (Bon Appétit! Enjoy Your Meal!)

 

 

.