Have you ever heard a client say, “I wish I just craved healthy foods!”? Food scientists use formulas to strike the right note causing the food products they make to hum with flavor that entices the taste buds. When moving away from processed food products and toward real whole food, one of the challenges is finding healthy foods and meals that are enjoyable. Being able to adjust the flavor of foods and finding ways to combine foods in a palate-pleasing way to create healthy meals is a skill that can be built to support sustainable dietary changes for health.
Here is the chef’s secret for making your taste buds dance with joy – create a dish that brings together all of the flavors (sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and savory) plus both a creamy and crunchy texture. Add a little dollop of a healthy fat to spread the flavor over all of the taste buds on the tongue so that all the flavors can be experienced, and spritz a bit of citrus to turn up the flavor volume.
How does this translate into food on the plate? Let’s look at the flavors and ways to bring these flavors to your dish.
Sweet: We can bring a sweet flavor into a dish by including vegetables and fruits, fresh or dried. If balanced blood sugar is a goal, stick with low net carbohydrate fruit such as fiber-rich berries and avoid using dried fruit. Roasting vegetables can bring out their sweet flavor. The low, slow cooking of onions also brings out sweetness.
Salt: Processed food products are often high in sodium. When moving away from processed food products, it is important to evaluate how much sodium is part of one’s daily diet. If one consumes a mix of processed food products and real whole foods, a strategy that works to create awareness of sodium intake is to look at the sodium content of the processed food products, and choose low or no salt foods. Less than 5% of the sodium intake that one consumes in a day is added salt. If one makes food at home, and does not have a sodium-restricted diet, adding salt can enhance the dish. Celtic sea salt is purported to contain minerals that support health and healing. Kosher salt has large crystals that can work well in a dish to add a hit of salt with lower overall sodium because less salt is needed to experience the flavor. Tamari, soy sauce, and seaweed can bring in a salty taste too.
Sour: Lemons, limes, grapefruit, and vinegars fall into this taste category. Adding a sour flavor brings brightness to a dish. Other sour foods include fermented vegetables, tamarind, and unsweetened yogurt. Some fruits and vegetables have a tart taste too.
Bitter: Deep green leafy greens are a nutrient-dense food that adds a bitter flavor to a dish. Although one may not think that one enjoys a bitter flavor, if one enjoys coffee, tea, or dark chocolate, one enjoys the bitter flavor. Young children may dislike the bitter taste. This is believed to be an instinctual dislike that prevents children from eating poisonous foods. Enjoying the bitter flavor seems to develop with age.
Umami: This is a Japanese word that describes a savory taste. Umami can be created in your dish by using cooking techniques such as browning or roasting. Foods that add a depth of flavor and umami include mushrooms, miso, seaweed, parmesan cheese, and sundried tomatoes.
Spice: Spice is an optional addition that can be used based on preference and appropriateness in a dish. Earthy spices such as cumin and cinnamon can bring in a flavor of spice without bringing in heat. For those who like their food hot, green onions, green chile, hot peppers, black pepper, and cayenne can add some heat.
In addition to taste, food is enjoyed because it offers texture. When both the creamy and crunchy textures are combined, there is a sense of satisfaction that is created. Creamy texture can be created using foods that are naturally creamy or by preparing the food in such a way that a creamy texture is created. Adding pureed roasted vegetables to a soup can add a creamy texture without adding cream. Mashing an avocado and spreading it over a piece of toast or a tortilla bring a creamy texture to a sandwich or wrap. Crunchy nutrient–dense vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, celery, and/or seeds and nuts can add a crunchy texture while bringing in health- building vitamins, minerals, fiber, and plant healing-compounds.
There are many options for creating meals that bring together all the flavors and both a creamy and crunchy texture. One can make simple meals using this idea. My simple lunch salad was composed of mixed greens (bitter), sweet and crunchy organic red and yellow bell pepper, sweet/sour tomatoes, a bit of leftover organic ground turkey seasoned with mild taco seasoning (umami and spice), roasted beets (sweet) and a simple dressing made of 1 teaspoon of golden balsamic vinegar (sour and a bit sweet), 1 teaspoon of organic olive oil (healthy fat) and a dash of onion powder, garlic powder, dried dill (the seasonings in Ranch dressing) and salt.
Need to balance out a flavor?
Add lemon juice or another acid to bring down sweetness.
Add a sweetener such as orange juice, honey, grade B maple syrup, or a sweet element such as roasted vegetables to balance out too much sour flavor.
Your dish tastes bland – try adding a pinch of salt.
Too much spice – too hot – add a bit of sweetness to tame the heat.
Flavor is flat – add a spritz of lemon or lime juice at the end of the cooking time or right before serving.
- Too much salt – add some acid or lemon juice to tone down the salty flavor.
In the Wisdom of the Whole Nutritional Coaching course, we explore a combined model of coaching and consulting that addresses the whole person bringing together practical steps for supporting sustainable dietary change for health, such as this chef’s secret and simple strategy for making healthy food taste delicious. I wish you many happy and healthy meals!
Disclaimer. This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your healthcare provider before making healthcare decisions or for guidance about specific medical conditions.