Is your dish too spicy, salty, sour, or sweet? - Here are some flavour rebalancing tips.

neil bougourd | 18 March, 2021

Here are tips for rebalancing your dishes!

The tastes are: heat, sweet, salt, sour, and bitter.

Heat comes from chili peppers and from peppercorns. You may notice how the peppercorn heat hits the front of your mouth, and the chili pepper heat hits the back. In order to rebalance a dish that has too much heat/spice there are few options: you can simply add more of all the other ingredients to dilute the heat, you can dampen it down slightly by include something acidic like a squeeze of lime or a drizzle of good wine vinegar, you can serve it with something sweet like chutney or a sweet preserve, or you can top it with something fat like avocado, yogurt, or sour cream. There is also the option of combing any of the above.

Sweetness , like all tastes needs to be balanced for enjoyment. ( Yes, there are those of you who will disagree and whose sweet teeth will write me a note.) Interestingly, salt won't help. Salt can enhance the sweetness, which is why a salt with dark chocolate works so very well. Any of the other tastes will help. Try adding some heat, or even a little bitterness. Stirring in a teaspoon of mustard to a stew, or a pinch of chili powder to a soup can make all the difference. If it is a dessert, then lemon is your friend.

Saltcan be the secret ingredient or way too briny. I once used 1/2 cup of salt instead of 1/2 tsp when making cookies as a youngster. Even the chocolate chips couldn't save that disaster! Often one salts a dish too early, and as the stew or soup cooks down the liquid evaporates , but the salt does not. In order to avoid such a mistake always salt at the end of cooking. If you do find your dish to be on the salty side, then try a little bitter, sour, or sweet to try and rebalance. Similar to when you have too much spice, the ultimate solution is to dilute the saltiness with more liquid and ingredients. 

Sour is one of my favourites for adding to a dish that seems flat or is too sweet, but what to do when it is too acidic and brings tears to your eyes? This one is easy: add one or all of: salt, sweet and bitter! I will add a little flavoured sugar, or some fleur de sel. If it is a salad dressing then honey or maple syrup or mustard do the trick. When you are making lemonade think about adding a pinch of salt as well as sugar. You can even add hot salt to really ramp up the taste experience. These tips also apply to cocktails. You can think about adding a flavoured sugar rimmer, or a flavour salt rimmer!

Bitter is such a great taste, and so very important in relation to the other tastes listed above. It really helps create depth to any dish. The most obvious bitter flavour is mustard, but many herbs like bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, tarragon are also bitters. The same method of adding the other tastes can easily rebalance a dish. If your soup tastes a bit bitter, then add lemon or vinegar and a pinch of salt. If your dark chocolate's bitterness is too sharp, then add some salt. If you make your own mustard you already know that you always add some vinegar or lemon juice, and then some salt and pepper! Or have some on hand to add to soups and stews.

The main takeaway from all of this is to think about the 5 tastes. When you taste your dish remember what tastes you have already in there, and then think about the tastes that are missing!

Good cooking!