FLAVOR: A Short Primer on Taste

In culinary circles these days, there seems to be a lot of talk about FLAVOR. Professional Chefs and Home Chefs alike seem to delight in lively discussions about things like complex and balanced flavors; flavor profiles, and flavor nuances. I get so many questions about these things that I thought a short primer on flavor would be helpful.

Basically, when we talk about flavor, we are talking about TASTE. It is generally agreed that there are five (5) primary tastes:

Sweet: the basic flavor or taste of most desserts, from simple fruits to the most decadent chocolate creations. However, ‘sweet’ also plays a part in savory cooking, as even a small amount can add balance to the flavor. It can work with bitter, sour, and even salty to bring out the flavors of other ingredients.

Salty: considered the most important of all of the tastes as it enhances the natural flavors of every ingredient it touches. While it is generally praised for its role in savory cooking, salt can also play a role in sweet creations. In fact, at MorningStar Kitchen, we almost always add a little salt to our sweets.

Sour: sourness brings brightness to savory dishes. Whether it comes in the form of citrus, vinegar, or herbs, sourness also enhances and balances the flavors in a recipe.

Bitter: bitterness can work to balance the sweetness in a recipe’s ingredients. It also works to balance the richness of a dish, and provides a “cleansing” effect that makes you want to take another bite, and another.

Umami: a relative newcomer to the list, umami is that savory, earthy flavor we get in things like mushrooms, meats, some cheeses, etc.

I’m going to add “Piquant,” “Aromatic,” and “Astringent” to our list. These terms apply more to the character of a dish than to the flavor itself. Piquant is that ‘kick,’ – that ‘spicy’ character – that usually comes from peppers of some sort and turns up the volume on a recipe. Aromatics include things like onions, garlic, and include things like onions, garlic, and ginger, all of which add a depth of flavor to a dish. That flavor stems more from the aroma of the ingredients than from the flavors themselves.

Astringent is that characteristic that causes a “puckering” response; things like wine, cranberries, and some nuts cause the flavor of a dish to become astringent.

Once we understand these basics, we are better prepared to become part of the conversation – and to create perfectly balanced, great tasting flavors! Creating great recipes is a matter of enhancing and balancing the flavors that go into any dish.

Still sound complicated? Let’s simplify it with an example: basic Marinara Sauce. Simply put, Marinara is a mixture of sweet, sour, salty, and aromatic. The sweet and sour come from the tomatoes, and the salty, of course, comes from salt; and the aromatic comes from garlic and onions. A chef can develop more complex flavors by adding things like peppers, carrots; wine and herbs. Now wasn’t that simple?

I’ll be addressing things like flavor “profiles,” and “nuances” in future posts. But for now, I hope you’ll check out our website for the hundreds of recipes we’ve posted to guide you in your own kitchen. We’ve created them to help you create flavorful dishes with balanced flavors. Visit us today at: https:/check them out on our website:


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