Humans have a natural penchant for salt, fat, and sugar, as these types of foods have been shown to light up reward centers in our brain. No wonder why it’s so difficult to turn down free pizza in the breakroom or donuts at an A.M. meeting!
Five basic tastes influence the vast variety of flavors in our food: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami, or savory. Despite our biological taste temptations, it is possible to enjoy all tastes by savoring the inherent flavor in nutrient-dense foods!
Sweet: The caramelization that results from roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness. When it comes to coffee, look to warming spices such as cinnamon to bring out the sweet side. Need a treat to polish off dinner? Eat a few Medjool dates or try making your own “ice cream” by blending frozen bananas with a splash of milk.
Salty: Olives, crumbled cheese, and anchovies are all excellent additives to salads, grains, and side dishes to add the saltiness we crave. Vinegar can also be used in lieu of salt when seasoning the final touches to sauces, soups, and stews.
Bitter: Many healthful foods have a subtle bitter flavor – dark leafy greens and Brassicas, black coffee, cocoa, grapefruit, and cranberries! Use bitter foods to balance out sweet or spicy flavors in other foods. Seltzer water has a mild bitterness with a fizz perfect for those who find drinking plain water unsatisfying.
Sour: A little sour goes a long way. A dollop of yogurt or squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice helps mellow an overly spicy taco and adds dimension to a lentil soup or curry. Cranberries or Granny Smith apples brighten up a salad or smoothie.
Umami: The amino acid glutamate naturally present in some foods allows us to experience the savory flavor. Many types of seafood, including cod, shrimp, scallops, and tuna, are high in umami compounds, while mushrooms and tomatoes are great plant-based sources of umami flavor.