The key to great cooking is to balance these five key flavours in each dish. First though, you’ve got to understand each taste and how to produce it!
What are the five key tastes?
Many people are sensitive to bitter flavours on their own, but they provide fantastic balance for sweetness (think how good coffee is with your morning pastry!)
Need more bitterness? Add dark chocolate, coffee, horseradish, beer, anise, mustard or radicchio.
Dish too bitter? Add more salt or sugar.
Top tip: Naturally bitter foods are often really good for you! Think broccoli, Brussels sprouts or rocket.
Even a small amount of a sour ingredient like lemon juice can brighten up a whole dish.
Need more sourness? Add lemon or lime juice, sour cream, vinegar or buttermilk.
Dish too sour? Add a sweet ingredient or a pinch of salt.
Top tip: Sour ingredients can help to cool down a too-spicy dish.
This isn’t about making a dish taste salty per se; rather, salt is a flavour enhancer which helps other flavours and aromas to shine.
Need more salt? Add cheese, olive, soy sauce or cured meats.
Dish too salty? Add water to thin out a sauce or potato to draw out some of the salt, or counteract by adding a touch of sweetness.
Top tip: Try to ignore the instinct to taste for saltiness and analyse how all the other flavours are coming through. The key to great cooking is to balance the five flavours in
Like salt, sweet flavours are good for giving a savoury dish more depth.
Need more sweetness? Add sugar, honey, fruit or maple syrup.
Dish too sweet? Add sour ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar.
Top tip: Don’t add salt to counteract sweetness in a dish; it can actually exaggerate it!
Naturally occurring in some foods and developed in others through slow cooking, aging, drying, and curing, umami is a savoury, meaty flavour, contributing a depth to food that salt can’t provide alone.
Need more umami? Add stock, Parmesan, soy sauce, fish sauce, bacon, mushrooms or tomatoes.
Too much umami? Add more of the other four flavours to round it out.
Top tip: Umami is the flavour to reach for when a dish just seems to be lacking something.