This is part of a ‘How to Maximize Flavor’ series by Cooksmarts, which include a “Guide to adding flavor with Aromatics” [Infographic], a “Guide to using Fresh Herbs” [Infographic] and “5 Sauces you can use on Everything” [Infographic].
Understanding how to combine and balance flavors is an incredibly important cooking concept, and it’s especially evident in Asian food. Maybe this is why just about everyone enjoys Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, or Japanese cooking.
Every dish is so dynamic in flavor. A Thai curry has sweetness from coconut milk and sugar, savoriness from fish sauce, spicy and earthy notes from herbs in the curry paste, and sour from the finish of lime juice. All these different flavors combine to achieve a delicious balance on our taste buds.
First, let’s review the basic flavors. Up until 2002, scientists recognized 4 ‘official’ tastes:
However, in 2002 umami was crowned the fifth flavor.
Umami simply means yummy in Japanese, and it’s hard to describe what the flavor of umami tastes like. For simplicity sake, they lumped it with salty in this lesson because they share a lot of the same flavor attributes.
For the purpose of this flavor lesson, they also included spice as the fifth flavor because everyone loves a little heat.