Salt, Bitter and Umami

1- Salt

Salt, like sweet, is perceived in the front of the mouth. It can add a wonderful boost to the flavor of a dish. Salt’s primary source is, well, salt. There are many types of salts on the market today. Each has its own personality and nuances. Try to sample and use as many as possible.

There are also ingredients with a high salt content that can be used in a dish in much the same way as salt. Bacon and cured meats, soy sauces, and some cheeses can all be used as salty additions. Keep in mind that, just like sugar, too much salt will overpower a product’s intrinsic flavor.

2- Bitter

We often associate bitter as an undesirable taste; it catches us at the top of the throat and at the back of the roof of our mouth. Have you ever bitten into a piece of unsweetened chocolate? That lingering flavor that hits you at the top of your mouth is bitter, from the cocoa powder. Other sources of bitter are the white pith of an orange or the overwhelming astringency of a burnt caramel. Bitter is perhaps an unexpected addition to pastry work but, as we’ll see later, it can be a wonderful counterpart to a sweet dish.

3- Umami

Umami is considered by many to be the fifth taste. While relatively new to the American culinary world, it has been part of the Asian culinary world for thousands of years. Asians have used umami to describe flavors that are savory or almost meaty. The essence of tenderloin aged perfectly and cooked to perfection, the sensation of eating a plum tomato straight off of the vine at the height of tomato season, the pungency of a wonderfully aged blue cheese, and MSG are all examples of umami. Umami is an expression of savoriness. It describes a product’s depth of flavor. Umami translates as “delicious” and although Western scientists are still trying to understand exactly how it affects our taste receptors it is believed to be linked to the presence of sulfur-containing amino acids. These amino acids are found in many salt-cured and fermented products.