January 8, 2018

Sweetness is delightful in everything from breakfast to dessert, the basic taste we associate with the joy of devouring a bowl of fruit or a sinking our teeth into a sugary, decadent treat. However, Austin culinary arts students know that it’s important to keep an open mind when crafting a dish’s flavor profile. Over recent years, savory and sour tastes have taken over many of the applications that were traditionally the province of sweetness.

Experimenting with new approaches to accentuate and combine these tastes could reveal delicious possibilities in your own cooking. Think about how you can harness the power of savory and sour ingredients when crafting intriguing dishes. You may soon understand why, these days, sweet is taking the backseat.

Putting the “ooh” in umami

“It’s now common to find umami as the featured taste in pastries.”

Savoriness is often described as the “fifth taste,” or – in the Japanese term – umami. While any culinary enthusiast is accustomed to enjoying the flavors of cured meats, seafood or mushrooms, creative chefs have also presented this sensation in many fascinating new contexts. It’s now common to find umami as the featured taste in pastries and other items that were once oriented toward sweetness.

Trend reports from Datassential have traced the arrival of these fresh applications for savory ingredients. First came the “new savory,” in which chefs threw in a touch of salt or added a piece of bacon to unlock new dimensions in a treat. In a recipe shared with the New York Times, for instance, Bobby Flay recommended topping chocolate pancakes with a salted caramel sauce.

Now, umami is often replacing sweet all together. The full embrace of savory has led to intriguing concepts like ice cream featuring ingredients like foie gras, blue cheese or corn. For breakfast, the Food Network suggested an umami-forward oatmeal that brings toasted sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds together with avocado, cherry tomatoes, flax oil and the wheat-free Japanese soy sauce tamari.

Sour flavors can bring a fresh spin to desserts.Sour flavors can bring a fresh spin to desserts.

The power of sour

For many of us, sourness does not have the same immediate appeal that we find in sweet or salty foods. Often, it takes time to acquire an appreciation for tangy flavors, but once we do, they can become addictive. That’s why culinary professionals are focusing on developing dishes and beverages that put sourness in the spotlight, and diners keep coming back for more.

Sour is celebrated in many establishments that specialize in fermented foods, and it’s also been taking over for sweetness in a variety of desserts. Flavor & The Menu noted that a balsamic vinegar reduction is an effective way of accentuating other tastes, and it can be nicely paired with strawberries. The tartness of a sour cherry compote makes a great addition to crepes, yogurt or a chocolate cake.

Sourness has been driving innovation for beverages, as many people have come to appreciate the combination of tanginess and other flavors in their drinks. Sour beer, which has long roots in Belgian history, has become a major trend, with many microbreweries producing their own takes on lambics or Flanders red ales. Many Americans have also embraced drinking vinegars, available in varieties like peach-ginger, strawberry-balsamic and lemon-cayenne.

Sour and savory flavors will continue to find new uses as chefs take influence from different culinary traditions and shift the boundaries between what foods we tend to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Students in culinary academy can take their cues from these ongoing trends, finding inventive ways of their own to employ unconventional taste combinations.