Understanding Food Flavors
The delicious – or not so delicious – way in which a food tastes in your mouth is the result of many factors including flavor, smell, temperature and texture. Taste buds tell us if a food is sweet, sour, salty, bitter or unami; but the flavor of a particular food is also determine by aromas picked up by your nose. Understanding how different flavors balance and counter balance each other can help you be more comfortable with cooking!
The five tastes are:
Sweet* – Most fruit, roasted vegetables, baked grains, sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup and milk
*Go easy on added sugars. Most women should eat or drink no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars and most men should eat or drink no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars.
Salty* – Natural salts, seaweed, ham, olives, some seafood like oysters and clams
Bitter – Dark leafy greens, coffee, grapefruit*, unsweetened cocoa, tonic water
*Some cholesterol-lowering medications may interact with grapefruit, grapefruit juice, pomegranate and pomegranate juice. Please talk to your health care provider about any potential risks
Unami – Defined as the ‘fifth taste,’ it is described as meaty or savory. Examples are beef, chicken, pork, no added salt tomato sauce, ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, and low sodium soy sauce.
Balancing the intensity of flavors leads to delicious dishes. Here are some tips on how to make tasty dinners out of pantry staples – or even an unfamiliar ingredient you may have been given:
Dinner in Minutes
Flavors that have similar intensity, aromas or texture
Bold flavors: Fish, mint and lime
Low sodium canned tuna salad with mint and lime OR grilled zucchini with a dressing of mint, lime and mashed low sodium anchovies/sardines
Earthy flavors: Mushrooms, lentils, bay leaves
Cook lentils (or dry beans) and mushrooms in low sodium chicken broth with a bay leaf
Crunchy textures: Apples, celery, nuts
Serve a salad of chopped apples, celery and unsalted nuts; combine with a dressing of vanilla low-fat, no added sugar yogurt
Sweet aromas: Roasted beets and orange juice
Make a dressing of orange juice, grated orange rind and a little olive oil; use to top roasted beets
Opposite flavors can actually be delicious together and add pizzazz to dishes
Bitter collard greens vs. salty ham
Cook greens in a little low sodium chicken broth and add diced lean, low sodium ham
Sweet tomatoes vs. unami chopped mushrooms
Top whole wheat bread with fresh or low sodium canned tomatoes and chopped mushrooms and add a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil ; broil in oven to warm
Burning spicy hot pepper vs. soothing yogurt
Bean casserole made with spicy hot peppers and topped with low-fat, no sugar added yogurt
Sour grapefruit* vs. sweet sugar
As a side or snack: One-half fresh grapefruit* topped with 1 teaspoon brown sugar and broiled in oven until golden
Acidic pineapple vs. soothing avocado
Fish with a salsa of canned pineapple, avocado and chopped green peppers
*Some cholesterol-lowering medications may interact with grapefruit, grapefruit juice, pomegranate and pomegranate juice. Please talk to your healthcare provider about any potential risks
Article copyright © 2012 American Heart Association. This article is brought to you by the American Heart Association’s Simple Cooking with Heart Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.