I have a confession… I never knew “acid” was one of the basic tastes, but it is! Acidity is an important component to balance many dishes! You know how a squeeze of a lemon over your meat or pasta seems to brighten all the flavors? That is hydrogen ions causing your taste receptor cells on your taste buds to fire and release neurotransmitters that tell your brain you have just put something sour in your mouth.
When are you supposed to add acidity to a dish? When your food has a syrupy sensation (and it’s not supposed to); when you feel like the food makes your lips super oily; if your food overall tastes lifeless; or if your food doesn’t make your mouth water. (Literally acidity makes you salivate!) Acidity goes especially well with savory foods like mushrooms, meat and beans.
What can I use to add acidity to a dish, you might ask? Well, well, well my friend, you have a whole array of options! Pickled ginger and vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, lemon juice, citrus zest, all sorts of vinegar, wine, tomatoes, sour cream, tangy ketchup and even that tart cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving turkey!
Muahaha time for another kitchen experiment! *slides into lab coat, positions lab goggles in place, snaps on thick rubber gloves* Dexter’s Laboratory, anyone?? It is time to make Italian Salsa Verde 🙂
First, I blended Italian parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, oil-packed anchovies, garlic clove, date pieces, toasted almonds, red pepper flakes and fine sea salt in a blender.
Taste test verdict – BLECH!!! This concoction tastes soooo bitter. I taste the saltiness of the sea salt and anchovies, and I taste the spiciness from the red pepper flakes. But it’s like bitter jumped out of the blender and smacked me in the face. Plus, it’s super oily, and I can feel the oil all over my lips. Gross.
Then I added capers & took it through another ride in the blender. Taste test verdict – better. The capers help a ton to cut down the bitterness and highlight the saltiness and freshness. The salsa is a bit brighter and feels a tiny bit less oily on my dry winter lips.
Finally I added the sherry vinegar. Taste test verdict – WOW! Now this salsa packs a punch (in the most pleasing of ways). The sherry vinegar lifted everything so I don’t feel like my lips were lathered in a vat of oil after tasting it. It’s so bright and the acidity shines through while I’m still able to taste all the other flavors. I could almost eat this salsa by itself, but it needs some yummy corn chips or maybe a baked white fish to tame this intense flavor!
If the acidity had been left out of the ingredients to make this salsa, it would have been way too bitter to eat and way too oily. But with the magic of acidity, it’s refreshing and exciting! I put it on scrambled eggs, roasted veggies, chicken. It’s pretty versatile, and most importantly, I learned the importance of acidity in cooking.
Oops! What do I do if I was trippin’ and I added too much acid to my food?! Stay calm. Breathe. You’re in a safe space. Try adding some sweetness (sugar, honey, dried fruit, etc.) to cut down the perception of acidity. Or add fat (cream, olive oil, etc.) to “coat the tongue” so your taste buds pick up less of the acidity. If neither of those work, try to add bulk or dilute the acidity by adding more of all the other foods or just water/stock if it’s a soup. 🙂
Thank you Becky Selengut for writing How To Taste and teaching me all about the importance of tastes, including acidity. I thought that lemon slice on my plate was for show. Now I know how important acidity really is after completing the Italian salsa verde experiment!