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Season to Taste

Flavor is created through balanced combinations of complementary foods, seasonings, and cooking techniques. The perception of these flavors comes together through all the senses when we eat, mainly through taste, aroma, and food textures. Each person’s ability to distinguish flavor differs; some people are more sensitive than others. While critical dish analysis comes naturally to some, most chefs must train their palates to determine ingredient characteristics, learning how to combine them in specific proportions to achieve a harmonious result.

When we cooks encounter the phrase, “season to taste” the natural inclination is to reach for the salt. However, some diets discourage salt and, when handled poorly, salt can be overwhelming. If you can taste the salt you’ve seasoned too heavily. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m anti-salt. Far from it. A well-timed sprinkling of the stuff can be the key to deep flavor. After all, James Beard called salt the “sovereign of seasonings.”  When used judiciously salt disappears into the overall flavor of a dish.

I do have a problem with diners who reach for the saltshaker as soon as they sit down, however. First of all too much sodium is not good for most people. Besides, your meal should arrive at the table well seasoned. Give the cook some credit. Of course, there’s room for disagreement and personal preferences – but please, oh please – taste before you salt. Especially if you’re eating at my house.

That said I thought we should talk about what “season to taste” or really just “season” actually means.

Sometimes the adding of acidity is built right into the recipe in subtle ways. So don’t skimp on or skip them entirely. When a recipe says to de-glaze the pan with wine don’t simply substitute one liquid for another and think that by getting all those yummy bits off the bottom and into the sauce that your mission is accomplished. Sure, de-glazing gets those flavor bits unstuck, but we use wine for other reasons than its fruity flavor. We use it for the acid it brings to the sauce.

There are other useful ways to add acidity to a dish. Each has its own character and each has a place on your permanent shopping list.

Vinegar is one of the best. A teaspoon of vinegar stirred into a cream-based soup at the last minute can be transformative. That’s why vinegar lives right on top of my stovetop, right next to 3 kinds of salt and my “everyday” olive oil. There are so many to choose from. You could start a collection. Though I doubt it would ever rival mine. Unlike some silly over-the-top price tags you can find on olive oil. Really good vinegar can be had at reasonable price points. So splurge. Try all kinds. You deserve it.

Citrus (especially lemon) is another useful cooking acid. Citrus is great at “brightening” almost anything. It can cut through some of those full-mouth-fatty-flavors and adds much-needed balance to cloyingly sweet fruit recipes.

There are other “seasonings” besides salt and acid. They all reach for the same effect in a recipe and you should experiment with them too. Some of these ingredients are regional or unique to one style of cooking. Asian fish sauce or its Italian counterpart, Colatura di Alici are good examples of this.

Sugar can also become a seasoning agent. A pinch of plain old granulated sugar can balance a recipe. Especially acidic recipes. A sprinkling of sugar in tomato sauce is the perfect example.

So experiment. If you’re afraid of ruining your beautiful soup with the wrong seasoning, then pull small amounts out at a time and add just a hint of whatever seasoning strikes your fancy. Your soup pot will stay pristine – waiting for that moment when the right seasoning makes itself known to your palate. This is when everything comes together, and you experience that wonderful moment of taste. Ah, taste!

Key Components of a Flavor Profile

Primary Flavors

 A sweet and tangy barbecue sauce might have primary sweet and acidic flavors.

The dominant tastes that define the dish. For example, a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce might have primary sweet and acidic flavors.

Secondary Flavors

Supporting tastes that complement and enhance the primary flavors. These could include savory or umami notes and herbal or spicy elements.


Achieving a harmonious distribution of flavors so that no single taste overwhelms the others. A well-balanced flavor profile ensures a pleasant and satisfying eating experience.


The depth and richness of the overall taste are often achieved by combining diverse ingredients that contribute layers of flavor.


The scents and fragrances associated with the dish contribute to the overall flavor perception.

Textural Elements

The mouthfeel of the dish includes factors like crunchiness, creaminess, and tenderness.

The mouthfeel of the dish, including factors like crunchiness, creaminess, or tenderness, adds to the overall sensory experience.

Ethnic Cuisine Flavor Profiles

When chefs discuss a recipe's flavor profile, they analyze and articulate the unique combination of tastes, aromas, and textures that make the dish distinctive. This understanding helps in both the creation and appreciation of well-crafted and delicious recipes.

The use of cilantro, cumin, and coriander is common in many dishes of Indian cuisine.

When describing ethnic cuisine, the term "flavor profile" is used to capture the distinctive combination of flavors, spices, and ingredients that are characteristic of a particular cultural or regional culinary tradition. Each ethnic cuisine has its unique flavor profile set that reflects the history, geography, and cultural influences of the people who developed it. Here's how the term is applied in this context:

Signature Ingredients and Spices

Ethnic cuisines often have signature ingredients and spices that contribute to their distinct flavor profiles. For example, the use of cilantro, cumin, and coriander is common in many dishes of Indian cuisine, creating a flavor profile that is easily recognizable.

Balance of Tastes

The balance of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami flavors varies across different ethnic cuisines. For instance, Thai cuisine is known for its balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors in dishes

like Tom Yum soup.

Cooking Techniques

The cooking techniques employed in a particular cuisine also influence its flavor profile. Grilling, slow cooking, frying, or using a clay oven can impart specific tastes and textures to the dishes.

Regional Variations

Northern Italian Cuisine differs regionally from Southern Italian because of variations in climate, culture, and local traditions.

Within a broader ethnic cuisine, there are often regional variations in flavor profiles. For example, Northern Italian cuisine's flavor profile may differ from Southern Italian cuisine's due to variations in climate, agriculture, and local traditions.

Aromatics and Herbs

Aromatics and herbs play a significant role in defining the flavor profile. Herbs like basil, mint, or lemongrass are commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisines, contributing to their unique and fresh flavor profiles.

Texture and Mouthfeel

The desired texture and mouthfeel of dishes, whether it's the tenderness of meats, the crunch of vegetables, or the creaminess of sauces, contribute to the overall flavor experience.

Cheers, and have a glorious hump day! Looking for more of this kind of material? Join one of our online Culinary certificate or diploma programs today!

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