Flavoring tips: low, medium and high notes

I just added a comment to a blog (Tim Ferriss, author of The 4 Hour Work Week, The 4 Hour Body and soon The 4 Hour Chef) and want to share my thoughts here with you…

Adding high notes and low notes not only make good sounding music – but also great tasting food.

So – boost the taste factor of any dish by adding low and high notes. I like to cook in ratios… and for a…

light, fresh dish, the ratio would be: 1:4:3 (1 part LOW; 4 parts MEDIUM; and 3 or more parts HIGH

umami, deep, aged flavors, the ratio would be: 4:4:1 (4 parts LOW; 4 parts MEDIUM; and 1 part HIGH)

(btw – there’s a cooking Ratio app for the iPhone by Michael Ruhlman… yumfun! … I like his blog/site, but better yet I love his short video rants on food and such.)


Take a cooking class with me, or join one of my cooking parties to see all this in action.


What are they and how to use them…

High notes

Add the high notes to give ZING to your dish at the end of cooking. Most of these flavor compounds are volatile, meaning the flavor is released quickly especially with heat.

  • citrus, such as lemon, lime, orange zest and juice
  • vinegars, such as apple cider, red wine, white wine
  • fresh herbs with bouquet-like fragrance, such as dill, tarragon, cilantro, basil
  • some veggies, such as asparagus, fresh bell peppers, fennel, celery

Medium notes

These are the bulk of the food in your dish, on your plate. They are the mild, non-descript flavors. …not tart, not sour, not aged, not toasted.

  • sweet foods, such as grains, pasta, bread
  • veggies with complex flavors, such as tomatoes, broccoli, cabbages, bok choy, kale,
  • fatty foods, such as oil, butter, cream, milk
  • starchy foods, such as potatoes, carrots, jicama
  • most meats, poultry and fish

Low notes

Add the low notes early to give an overall DEPTH to your dish. These are the savory, umami, earthy, aged and aromatic flavors. These are foods used to permeate a dish to give it a foundation – to ‘ground’ the dish. The most common low notes are bacon, garlic, aged cheese and sun dried tomatoes and anything grilled or roasted.

  • bacon
  • garlic
  • aged cheeses
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • mushrooms
  • wine
  • balsamic vinegar
  • black pepper
  • dried chili peppers
  • dried herbs and spices with deep herbaceous qualities such as oregano, turmeric
  • chocolate
  • ginger
  • shallots and yellow onion (use red onion if you want the flavor to go to the sweeter side, see my “Onion Test” blog post)
  • leafy veggies with peppery tones, such as arugula
  • root veggies with deep earthy tones, such as burdock
  • fermented foods, such as miso

Or… add the low notes as a garnish like:

  • smoked salt
  • anything toasted like nuts, seeds
    (NOTE: coriander seeds has been my go-to aromatic for months now, they will add great depth to any dish, especially a salad.)