The Five Flavor Profiles and How To Master Them

Some of you might know what I mean when I start talking about flavor profiles, and some of you won’t. But I bet that just about all of you are familiar with the ideas of them without even knowing it. A lot of times when you eat something, you just know that it tastes good, even if you don’t know why. That’s where this nifty little chart comes in.

The dark lines represent flavor profiles that balance each other out and compliment the other flavor. The lighter lines represent flavor profiles that enhance each other.

If you think about it, probably most of your favorite foods, sauces, condiments, and desserts probably have more than one flavor profile – that’s what makes them so yummy. Take sweet chili sauce for example: it’s sweet, a little spicy, a little salty, and a little bit sour depending on how it’s made. That’s four of the profiles in one little sauce! Which, by the way, tastes amazing on pretty much everything. Ketchup is another one that comes to mind, and it’s not quite so complicated. Its salty, sweet, and sour, and most of your probably have a favorite food you love to dip into it.

These flavor profiles also really come in handy if you overdo something – adding too much vinegar to a slaw, too much spice to salsa (debatable if that’s even possible), have too much bitter greens in a salad. Using these examples, it’s easy to figure out how you can fix, or at least cover up, your little mishap. If you have too much vinegar in a slaw, the easiest thing is to add something a little sweet. If you take a look at most store-bought coleslaw or even a lot of recipes, you’ll notice that there is usually at least a little bit of sugar to help balance the vinegar of the mayonnaise or other dressings. If your salsa is too spicy, adding something sweet is another way to forego any potential damage to your tastebuds. Mango-Habanero wings are a perfect example of this! If you took away the sweetness, all you would taste is the spice, and vice versa. If your kale and mustard green salad needs some lightening up from the bitterness, you can easily come up with a vinaigrette that leans a little to the sweet side. It will make a world of difference, and you won’t feel like your tastebuds are dying.

Whether you know it or not, these five flavor profiles are really important in the way things taste! And now that you have a little more information and that handy dandy little chart, you are more equipped to tackle anything in the kitchen! I recommend printing out a copy of the chart, or simply drawing one on a piece of paper, and taping in to the inside of a cupboard or pantry door. That way it’s an easy reference whenever you need a quick fix, or to be inspired to try new flavor combinations in your own recipes. Once you know some of the basics of how flavors work together (or don’t) then it’s much easier to branch out and give you some freedom to create something new. Try it out and have fun!

Asian cuisine – particularly Southeast Asia – is a master class in flavor combinations. Pho is the perfect example of something that employs every profile without any one of them particularly standing out over the others.

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