When it comes to sweet and acidic flavors, we’re hooked. From candies to pickles and “ethnic” cuisines, some of our favorite foods have that wonderful sugary feeling or a pleasantly sharp bite. What’s the appeal and how can we bring those same tastes into what we cook at home?
Much like salt, acid and sugar have the ability to not only balance flavors, but accentuate and draw out tastes that might otherwise go unnoticed. Acids like vinegar and lemon juice help to cut the flavor and sensation of fat by evening out the flabby feeling that it can have on our tongue and allow other flavors to come through. Imagine eating a salad with just oil on it.
Sugar makes just about everything better if used in restrained amounts. Its inherent ability to cover up bitterness and leave a pleasing aftertaste can be used to your advantage in a myriad of ways. Sprinkling a few white grains on wilted spinach reduces the bitterness and allows that pure green flavor to come through. Evening out the heat of spicy dishes with sugar is a foundation of Barbecue and Asian cooking and is a great addition to a hot Arrabbiata sauce.
The coup de grace of course is the combination of the two. Sweet vinaigrettes, lemonade, and bread and butter pickles are great examples of these. Finishing a dish with a sprinkle of sugar or a dash of vinegar will help you elevate your food to the next level when you’re asking yourself “what is this missing?” .