Salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami are five taste elements that form our perception of flavour.
A perfectly balanced dish can elevate a dining experience, and mastering it involves understanding the elements thoroughly combined with other methods.
How do Chefs balance the flavour elements in cooking?
Understand the different flavour elements
Cooking as a science can be perfectly demonstrated by applying flavour elements to achieve the desired flavour, whether to contrast or complement.
Skilled Chefs know that the five flavour elements can be used to achieve an end flavour beyond what the element is ideally used for.
- Saltiness – does more than make a dish salty. It balances bitterness, enhances sweetness when making salted caramel, and enriches acidic flavours when added to tomato-based dishes.
- Sweetness: counteracts sour and bitter flavours and tempers the heat of a spicy dish.
- Sourness: sour notes add a punch of liveliness to a dish and counteract heat and sweetness.
- Bitterness: The least liked flavour element, and yet it serves a valuable role in cutting the richness or sweetness of a dish.
- Umami: This element represents the savouriness of a dish. Ingredients filled with umami can be added to a dish that lacks that wow flavour.
Understand variants of flavour elements
Recipes can be exact in measurements, but most people fail to realize that unless the recipe mentions a specific type or brand of flavour element and when the Chef follows it to a T, it may not result in the desired outcome.
Take soy sauce, for example. Many soy sauce variants are available and vary in appearance, texture and flavour. Some dishes ideally have a deeper, richer colour and flavour and thus require a particular type of soy sauce to achieve it. The same goes for light dishes such as broths, which will require a light soy sauce if a recipe calls for it. It is not as simple as reaching out for whatever is available. Check out this interesting article about the different soy sauce varieties used for cooking.
Taste as you cook
A skilled Chef has mastery in adjusting flavours, and one of the ways they do this is by tasting as they cook. Flavours are developed in layers. And as they undergo each cooking level, you need to know how the overall taste is at that particular stage. It is not wise to wait until the end of the cooking process to taste the dish only to realize that it needs tweaking. When this happens, the quality or integrity of meat or vegetable will often be affected. The rest of the ingredients will either be overcooked or turned to mush. Another result is that the last seasoning applied will be the most dominant flavour.
Cleanse your palate
Regular tasting of dishes can saturate your taste buds making the flavours linger longer in your mouth. A good practice is to cleanse your palate to ensure the balance of flavours in the dish. It reboots your tastebuds so that you are more able to appreciate flavours.
Typical palate cleansers that you can have in handy and pop in your mouth when intense flavours are in your mouth are sorbet, a sip of water, bananas, crackers, and olives.
Or, just give it time. You can reset your palate by resting or giving it a break.
RELATED READ: Making The Art of Tasting Work For You
Balancing the five essential flavours is both an art and science, and mastering this practice is a hallmark of a genuinely skilful chef.
For skilled professional chefs, you need to hire, get in touch with us at Anytime Chefs. We have a roster of talents who can fill your chef needs, whether short-term hire or long-term hire. We are a team of Chefs who know how to support businesses, and we get it right.
That’s it for this week.
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Ciao for now,