We’ve all been there; after we’ve cooked up a storm, we go to taste our finished dishes only to find the flavour falls, well, flat. Something is missing, but we’re not quite sure what it is.
Our taste buds or receptors have five main components: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. When trying to identify what’s missing from a meal, it’s a good idea to think in terms of taste: does it need more sweetness, saltiness, etc. Next time your dish seems to be lacking flavour, reach for one of the six ingredients below.
Vinegar is the most common ingredient to boost a bland recipe. The acidity of vinegar can actually help to balance out the five tastes. My personal favorite is balsamic vinegar, as it not only adds acid but also adds notes of sweetness as well. An acid, depending on which one, can work to increase sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami tastes. Other wonderful vinegars include apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar and rice vinegar. Each of them have their place in boosting the flavour for particular cuisines – for instance, rice vinegar is very good at enhancing Asian fare. Vinegar is strong so if adding it to a dish, go slowly, you can always add more but you can’t take away!
Lemon is one of my favourite ingredients to use to enhance a recipe. The acidity and sourness of a lemon works similarly to vinegar to boost and bring together flavours. You can even use the zest of a lemon to enhance a dish. Zest adds a refreshing flavour with hints of sweetness. If lemon isn’t your thing, try using limes, grapefruits or oranges for varying levels of acid and flavour.
3. Sea Salt
Salt is a classic seasoning to add to any dish when it is bland – but be careful, adding too much salt can ruin a dish. I have included sea salt instead of table salt because it has more of a boldness in flavour. Table salt has also gone through more processing and bleaching. Salt helps to bring out all other flavours while also adding saltiness. If you have specialty salts such as truffle salt, garlic salt or herb salt try using those to add different layers of flavour. Always remember, you can add more but you can’t take away!
Mustard is a fantastic emulsifier that adds a creamy texture as well as a sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavour. A squirt of Dijon or whole grain mustard can go a long, long way. I especially like to use it in Mediterranean style dishes. There are many different mustards to choose from that can add a whole array of flavour to a bland dish.
Tamari is a Japanese style soy sauce that can be gluten free and is usually a by-product of miso. This is one of the best ways to enhance a recipe. Simply because it is an Asian ingredient, it doesn’t need to be reserved for Asian cuisine only. Tamari is not as salty or harsh as traditional soy sauce, although it is quite salty. It has a natural sweetness and just a teaspoon can enhance a flavour profile hitting sweet, salty and umami notes.
Honey is a classic sweetener, it is not refined, like white sugar, although it is still incredibly sweet. Sometimes, a dish is simply missing more of a sweet flavour. Honey is so rich and sweet that only a little bit needs to be added. Take a bite of your recipe and if you feel like it’s missing a touch of sweet, slowly add honey half a teaspoon at a time. Remember the golden rule – you can always add more but you can’t take away!