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Introducing Five Tastes

The magic flavours of food and the experiences each unique dish delivers is attributed to the complex blend of the five sensory tastes.  Most Western cuisines are familiar with sweet, sour, salty and bitter with traditional dishes comprising usually one or two taste experiences. However, unlike Western cuisine Asian cuisine perfectly balances all five tastes in the one meal. There is also a fifth taste that helps to bring together the four other tastes known as umami. Otherwise translated as delivering a ‘savoury’ element, it is often responsible for the ‘deliciousness’ or ‘great flavour’ that is difficult to articulate or attribute to one particular ingredient.  It provides an added moreish factor that balances and ties together the other four tastes in the one dish that is typical and distinctive of Asian cuisine.


  Sweetness is the simplest of tastes to detect as it signals the presence of sugar. Typically found in a variety of foods such as cane sugar, palm sugar, coconut cream, mirin and honey. The influence of sugar in a dish is greatly under recognised, as it controls heat or spiciness. Increased sugar content directly reduces the heat sensation caused by the likes of chillies and spice powders. 

  Sourness is the taste that relates to acidity. It is often found in foods such as lemon and lime juice, kaffir limes, pickles, rice vinegar, tamarind and green apples. The presence of sourness provides a sharp or tart experience and is often used to cut through the fattiness of a dish providing better balance and palatability. 

  The taste of saltiness is generally an enjoyable experience when used in moderation. In Asian cuisine, it is readily found in foods such as fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy and sea salt. The use of ingredients such as these gives a dish additional flavour in combination with a salty taste. 

  Bitterness when balanced with sweetness, sourness and saltiness  delivers a pungent taste that is universally liked. However if not balanced properly it can be unpleasant in excess. Bitterness fulfils an important role in adding depth and complexity to a dish.

Bitterness is found in foods such as tamarind, lime rind, coffee, cocao, olives and tonic waters. 
  Savoury or otherwise known as Umami is the fifth taste or savoury element that is responsible for marrying together the four other tastes.

It completes a dish by adding character and depth of flavour that balances every element into one harmonious dish. Umami is often described as the secret ingredient to adding ‘deliciousness’ or enriching the existing flavours and is naturally found in foods such as cheese, fermented fish, shrimp paste, shitake mushrooms, tomatoes, cured meats, seaweed, miso paste, kombu, Worchester sauce, grains, beans and walnuts. The impact of Umami flavour is directly influenced by the presence of salt. 


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