Cook Better By Balancing Sweet and Sour. A List of Ingredients That Add Acidity to Any Dish
Tasting your food as you cook it and balancing flavors as you go will make you a much better cook - you can't be a great cook unless you do this!
My Flavor Balancing Exercise
When I taste something for seasoning, I run through a mental list making sure that all the needed component flavors are included and in harmony.
I ask myself:
- Is it salty enough; is the taste "full" should I add some salt, or something with glutamates, such as fish sauce?
- Is it sweet enough?
- Is it sour enough?
- Are the seasonings balanced?
- Is there a balance of textures in the dish?
It's rare to taste something in creation on the stove and have it be perfect the first time (rare for me anyway...ha-ha) and so I am often needing to add bits and dashes of this and that to even out the flavors. And when doing this, it's very useful to have a variety of ingredients that will increase the sweetness, or saltiness or acidity – after all, cooking would be pretty boring if we only used salt for salty – sugar for sweet and vinegar for sour!
I have already written about ways to increase the sweetness (click here for a list of ingredients that add sweetness) so here is a logical continuation of that hub – a list of ingredients that you can use to add acidity.
A sweet dish without an acidic counterpoint can become cloying and often, dishes weak in acid taste a little bit flat. It's amazing how a squeeze of lime can add some needed excitement!
If you are serving a dish with wine, be careful of too much acidity, which can make wine pairings very difficult.
Ingredients that make things taste sour
- Vinegars (It's great to have a few vinegars in your pantry. Vinegars I like a lot include balsamic, apple cider, rice, sherry and red wine)
- Citric acid – use citric acid as you would salt – a pinch here and there can add a dramatic "liminess" to anything. This a great secret weapon in any pantry!
- Lime juice
- Lemon juice
- Grapefruit juice
- Ascorbic acid - Like citric acid, you can also procure straight ascorbic acid powder; it tastes like unsweetened Vitamin C and is great for adding a punch of sour orange flavor without the liquid.
- Tart orange juice
- Tamarind – everyone should keep some tamarind on hand. It keeps forever and it adds a great complex sourness that goes very well with things like dried chilies.
- Pickles or pickle water
- Sour cream
- Preserved lemons
Add a little acid to everything you cook, and every time you taste something for flavoring (which you need to do every time you cook!) think about whether a bit of sourness would improve the taste and balance of your food. It usually will!
Get some citric acid - costs nothing and you'll love it!
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