I am a huge fan of pairing contrasting flavor notes to taste things more deeply. It might sound strange, but have you ever noticed how a little scatter of flaky salt on chocolate mousse elicits more of its chocolatey-ness? Or a drizzle of honey added to miso further summons its savory funk?
Without getting too sciency, there’s a real thing at work behind this—salt literally stimulates the saliva impulse, connecting us to taste more richly, more deeply. Savory umami, the fifth flavor on our palate, brings exclamation-worthy bursts of flavor.
Here are some ways to add a little sweet to your savory foods—and savory to your sweet—to make all your flavors stand out.
This vinaigrette (made using fish sauce and chives) is decidedly savory. Generously spooned onto sweet corn, even sweeter peach wedges, and bright tomatoes—the contrasts in flavors and textures are a sheer delight.
Juicy peaches offset salty bacon, harmonizing in their opposites. This combination is even more blissful with a drizzle of tahini. Definitely a “greater than the sum of its parts” kind of recipe.
I adore cherries. A good cherry pie is always a thing of beauty, but this inventive pairing of sweet cherries with a savory, crunchy fennel salad and salt-flecked seared tuna is a game-changer.
Miso is a terrific punchy flavor all on its own. Paired with honey, mushrooms, and a triple-cream cheese, there’s a whole party going on with these toasts.
Japanese food has mastered pairing sweet and savory elements. In this cabbage pancake, both smoky-salty bonito flakes and a sweet Worcestershire sauce top the savory okonomiyaki.
A tiny bit of sugar goes a long way to offset bracing lemon, shallots, and capers, which results in a balanced vinaigrette you’ll want to toss all the crunchy things in.
The unlikely pairing of figs and olives creates a surprising, dynamic spread worthy of your best cheeseboard. Filled with charcuterie, dried and fresh fruits, plus all the cheese, it fits right into this savory-sweet snacking feast.
Dolloped with lush and tangy crème fraîche, noodles are flecked with briny trout roe in this easy-to-throw-together (but very luxurious feeling) lowbrow-meets-highbrow dish.
Rich balsamic syrup gets an upgrade with a touch of sweet honey. The sauce is equally great spooned onto ice cream as it is on roast pork.
Agave nectar mixes with sharp mustard and other bright elements to make a unique, bean-centric mayo, which gets tossed with a savory, juicy shrimp salad. The subtle sweetness from buttery croissants carries the theme even further.
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Melina is the author of ‘A Year at Catbird Cottage’ with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.