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Cook Better By Balancing Sweet and Sour. A List of Ingredients That Add Acidity to Any Dish

Updated on April 22, 2009

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.
  • Cranberries
  • Pickles or pickle water
  • Kimichi
  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Lemongrass
  • Wine
  • Preserved lemons
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tomato

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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    • profile image

      Karoline 5 years ago

      Fantastic hub, looking forward to come back and see your new posts. Thank you.

      My art gallery

    • K.D. Clement profile image

      K.D. Clement 8 years ago from USA

      You've inspired me to seek out tamarind and try it in cooking. Fun, bright hub. Thanks.