Learn how to balance bitter foods with other flavors to make them taste better in this helpful guide. Combining ingredients thoughtfully can create incredibly flavorful dishes. Examples below!
Combining and balancing one flavor with another is what makes food taste great. Sweet + salty + bitter + sour together in one bite is what makes us want more. Check out my post with Tips to make your food taste better and How to Salt Your Food for the basics of flavor.
Our taste buds sense salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. Bitter is likely the least appealing of the flavors, but that doesn’t mean that it should be eliminated. Combined with other flavors or a rich dish, a touch of bitter can take it from ok to DELICIOUS! Learning to balance bitter foods with the right flavors and ingredients is a skill that will take you far.
6 Bitter Foods and How to Balance Flavor
Salt is an excellent way to balance in any dish, especially savory dishes. For more info on using salt, see my post on using salt in cooking. Sweet ingredients like sugar, honey, fruit juices and maple syrup will balance bitterness. Any dish can also be balanced with a touch of a sour ingredient like lemon or vinegar. Finally, a fatty ingredient like oil, cream. coconut cream or butter will also tame bitterness.
First taste. Which other flavors are you NOT tasting? Add some of that. A pinch or two of salt is always an excellent starting point. If the dish is already properly salted, add a sweet ingredient. If neither one of those will work, a touch of sour or fat can be used. Always add a little at a time and taste. It’s easy to add more but impossible to take it out.
On its own, chocolate is bitter. Add sugar, milk and/or cream and chocolate is addicting! The sweetness of sugar and dairy (most dairy is mildly sweet) balances the bitterness. Dark chocolate and bittersweet chocolate have no milk or cream and less sugar to allow the bitterness to remain. Salt is used in chocolate too as a balance to the bitter flavor.
Black coffee lovers may not know it, but they have a preference for bitterness. Others like to tame that bitterness with sugar and cream or milk. And just like as in chocolate the balance is crave worthy.
Straight off the tree olives can be bitter. But we eat prepared olives that come in a brine (salty) that also balances bitterness. Olive oil is often combined with sweet, salty and sour ingredients as in salad dressings.
The white pith that sits right beneath the colorful skin is what makes citrus peel bitter. To get the flavor of citrus without the bitter pith, use a microplane to shave the colorful skin. Here’s How to Zest A Lemon without the bitter pith. This skin contains the flavorful, fragrant oils of its fruit. On the other hand, orange marmalade takes that super bitter peel and turns it into a yummy bitter-sweet topping.
Kale can be marinated with a sweet, salty, fatty and even sour item to tame its bitterness. Salad dressings are the perfect way to balance the flavor of kale. Chop kale into bite sized pieces and let it sit in a vinaigrette dressing for 15-20 minutes.
Beer gets its bitter flavor from hops. Different types of beer like lagers, IPAs ales, porters and stouts have different amounts of hops that give them varying levels of bitterness. The mild sweetness of malt is the balancing factor in beer.
Here is another video in my series on balancing flavors and making food taste better.