How to season food


This blog post contains notes for a Zoom video event with my MeetUp group on April 4, 2020.

This is an overview of Flavors, in regards to “seasonings.”

Note: the term flavors actually refers to the “…intersection of taste, aroma, and sensory elements including texture, sound, appearance and temperature.” Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat, 2017.

Here are the categories I presented in the class:
  1. My flavor rules to be a GOOD cook
  2. The 6 main tastes
  3. The way we describe flavors (descriptive terms)
  4. Predominant flavors versus background flavors
  5. Balancing flavors
  6. Books
Related posts:

My flavor rules to be a GOOD cook

  1. Use salt. Not too much. But enough. It is “…the most important element of good cooking…” this is from “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” by Samin Nosrat; Page 55, the last sentence in her “SALT” chapter.
  2. Have at least 1 (and better to have a few) dried herb blends. Here are my favorites:
    • Trader Joe’s “Everything But The Bagel” — strong garlic and onion
    • “Old Bay Seasoning” — strong paprika, celery salt, black pepper, and some cayenne
    • “Herbs de Provence — a French blend with about 5 common Mediterranean herbs and sometimes lavender.
    • “Baharat” — Middle Eastern blend of strong aromatic sweet spices:  cinnamon, clove, allspice, black pepper, and more
    • “Curry Powder” or “Garam Masala” — strong Indian flavors or cumin, turmeric, coriander
    • “Chinese 5 Spice” — fennel, anise, cinnamon, clove, and black pepper
  3. Have onions and garlic on hand, store in a cool, dry, dark cupboard
  4. Get to know flavors so you can articulate them when you taste. Go to a local spice shop and sniff the “testers.” Read about culinary herbs and spices. I have /like these 2 reference books:
    • Herbs & Spices, by Jill Norman
    • The Spice & Herb Bible, by Ian Hemphill
  5. Know your own flavor preferences (cuisine), and be sure to have those seasonings on hand
  6. Know cooking terms, so that you can understand the language and articulate what it is your are tasting.
  7. Have a basic understanding that water, oil and alcohol extract flavors:

The 6 main tastes

  1. Salty
  2. Sour
  3. Sweet
  4. Bitter
  5. Umami
  6. Spicy

The way we describe flavors (descriptive terms, not a complete list)

  1. Aromatic
  2. Pungent
  3. Astringent
  4. Minerally
  5. Acidic
  6. Tangy
  7. Tart
  8. Sharp
  9. Bittersweet
  10. Briny
  11. Fatty
  12. Caramelized
  13. Toasted
  14. Roasted
  15. Charred
  16. Smoky
  17. Floral
  18. Earthy
  19. Woodsy
  20. Yeasty
  21. Herbal
  22. Nutty
  23. Citrusy
  24. Fruity
  25. Zesty
  26. Herbaceous
  27. Vegetative
  28. Thin
  29. Full bodied
  30. Rich
  31. Robust
  32. Complex
  33. Bright
  34. Light
  35. Fresh

Predominant flavors versus background flavors

Generally, 3 main flavors give a dish it’s main character. The other flavor elements are background –or, I call them supporting actors, and gawkers.

    • Example:  Beef Bourguignon has a strong beefy, wine and onion flavor. And the background flavors are garlic, herbs and mushrooms.
    • Example:  Ragu with sausage, roasted garlic, bell peppers, zucchini and Italian dried herb blend. The predominant flavors are tomato, pork sausage, garlic and bell peppers. The background flavors will be zucchini and herbs.
    • Example:  Tom Kha Gai Soup. This is a Thai soup with coconut cream and chicken, seasoned with lime, ginger, lemongrass and galangal. Background flavors will be the vegetables, fish sauce and the chicken.
    • Example: Ginger Sweet Potato Coconut Milk Stew With Lentils & Kale. The dominant flavor will be ginger and coconut milk, and the supporting actors are the veggies and any other seasonings that are used.

Balancing flavors

The Flavor Star chart

THE FLAVOR STAR” is a great tool to help you balancing flavors and to help you understand that flavors impact each other. Here is info from their “CooksMarts” site, 3 of 3 blog posts on Maximizing Flavor:

“Or if you have a dish that’s too spicy, you can also balance the heat with something sweet. So if you ever over-spice a curry or sauce, just add a bit of your preferred sweetener (or use one of our ideas below in the sweet section), to neutralize the heat.”

“If you keep this Flavor Star handy, you can learn how to create more dynamic flavors, rescue dishes that have been overly flavored, and also how to amplify certain flavors.”

Related books on flavor, pairing flavors, balancing flavor, and learning how to taste:

“Taste What You’re Missing,” by Barb Stuckey

“Salt Fat Acid Heat,” by Samin Nosrat (she has a 4-part Netflix series based on this book)

“The Flavor Thesaurus,” by Niki Segnit

“Herbs & Spices,” by Jill Norman

“The Spice & Herb Bible,” by Ian Hemphill

Are you a supertaster? Testing kit.