Attention class! Today we are learning about… SWEETNESS! *throws sugar in the air like confetti, busts open the hidden leftover Halloween candy, swallows pixie sticks by the handful.* Our brains are wired to seek out sugar because it provides calories and it signals our instincts that something is ripe and safe to eat. Sugar, like salt, is a flavorant, so it enhances the flavor of the other ingredients in a dish. It helps add sweetness to a dish that is too bitter, too acidic or too salty. If you happen to add too much sugar, you can attempt to rescue your masterpiece by adding more bulk to dilute the overall taste, add acidity, add heat/spicy, or add fat – but whatever you do, don’t add salt as that will enhance the perception of sweetness. I’ve been detoxing from sugar for the last 26 days and counting, since I’m still on the GAPS diet… remember cinnamon rolls? remember lucky charms? remember protein shakes after crushing a workout? remember chocolate? remember bubble tea? remember life???
And what do you know – sugars do so much besides add sweetness! Sugars act as a stabilizer and a leavener, provide texture, keep food moist and tender, and contribute to caramelization (see extra credit below.)
Blind taste test performed on bae. The secret ingredients of the mug for my handsome, unsuspecting test subject:
- The burgundy mug had 1/4 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and a couple drop of vanilla extract.
- The colorful book mug was just plain black coffee.
- The planter pot mug had a pinch of fine sea salt.
The mug with the coca, cinnamon and vanilla definitely smelled strongly of cinnamon, and at first, it just tasted like bitter cinnamon. But after tasting the plain coffee and then coming back to the coffee with the flavors, it tasted way less bitter and noticeably “sweeter” than the plain coffee, even though there was no “sweetener” in it!
The mug with plain coffee tasted like plain black coffee… bitter af.
The mug with the salted coffee tasted less bitter than plain coffee but it was saltyyy. Like if the Starbucks mermaid was your barista and she made your coffee in ocean water. This was my bad, because in the book How to Taste, this coffee is not supposed to taste like salt, but the undetectable salt is supposed to make you perceive that the coffee is sweeter – my bad lol.
Extra Credit – sweeteners come in all shapes and sizes from the super-processed nostalgic Sweet ‘N Low or Splend to whole foods like fruits. For a full list of sweetener substances you might find on an ingredient label, check out here. And what is SUPER COOL is you can add sweetness via chemical reactions such as the Maillard reaction (think browning a chicken) and caramelization (think caramelized onions).
Special thanks to Becky Selengut’s book How to Taste for the education & experiment. And a huge shout-out to my best friend and ride-or-die bae, for being such a good sport in my experiments and this [long] journey to learning how to cook 🙂