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5 Flavour Surprises

Time to taste the difference


Do you know what the five primary tastes are? Embrace sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami in these delicious recipes.

According to Ayurveda, a traditional medicine hailing from India, the sense of taste is a natural guide map toward proper nutrition. And when it comes to healthy eating, it’s important to give your diet a daily high five by embracing all the primary tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Trying out different tastes can expose us to a wider range of foods and, in turn, a greater diversity of disease-fighting compounds. Too many Canadians, however, eat a diet that is skewed toward sweet and salty, as sugars and salt have been pumped into a large percentage of supermarket and restaurant foods that are—ahem—souring our health.

Yet the tastes of bitter, sour, and umami are generally the tastes of health. Foods that fall into these categories, such as collards (bitter), kefir (sour), and mushrooms (umami), are loaded with vital nutrients for well-being. Even foods that are naturally sweet or salty can and should be incorporated into a well-balanced diet.

If you work on exposing your palate to each taste on a daily basis, you’ll soon find your taste buds becoming more welcoming to natural flavours. This means you won’t need to mask coffee’s natural bitterness with heaps of sugar or turn up your nose at tangy plain yogurt.

This dietary transformation can pay off with a trimmer waistline and better overall health as you cut back on unnecessary sugar and salt consumption as well as broaden your nutrient intake. Think of it as daily training for one of the most important muscles in your body—the tongue.


Taste test

The best way to exercise your taste buds—and bolster your health—is by expanding the range of natural tastes in your snacks and meals.


We are evolutionarily hardwired to love sweet flavour, but much of the sweetness in today’s Western diet comes from added sweeteners. Instead, try to tame your sweet tooth with these foods that deliver plenty of natural sweetness:

  • basil and cloves
  • beets, carrots, jicama, red bell peppers, and sweet potatoes
  • crab and scallops
  • rice
  • fresh and dried fruits such as apricots, mangos, and dates


Many Canadians have a habit of avoiding bitter foods, but a 2013 study in the journal Appetite found that individuals who frowned upon bitter-tasting fare were more likely to be overweight. Often, the compounds that make foods taste bitter (such as polyphenols in unsweetened cocoa) are also beneficial in disease prevention. If you have an aversion to bitterness, consider slowly working some of the items below into your diet:

  • arugula and dandelion greens
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cocoa and coffee beans
  • dark greens such as chard and kale
  • eggplant and zucchini
  • endive and radicchio
  • grapefruit
  • turmeric
  • walnuts


Too often the taste of sour is covered up by sweetness. Case in point: think about how hard it is to find unsweetened dried cranberries. Sour tastes are caused by acids in foods such as the lactic acid produced during the fermentation of yogurt. In cooking, lemon juice and vinegar are commonly used to give dishes a sour note, but consider puckering up to more of these tart beauties:

  • blackberries, tart cherries, cranberries, and currants
  • citrus, lemon, and lime
  • buttermilk, kefir, goats’ milk, and yogurt
  • rhubarb
  • sauerkraut
  • vinegars


Umami (a Japanese term that roughly translates to “savoury”) generates a meaty, brothy sensation in your mouth that is triggered by amino acids such as glutamate. The following foods may not seem exotic, but they’re all rich in umami flavour:

  • aged cheese such as Parmesan and Gruyere
  • anchovies and mackerel
  • balsamic vinegar
  • broccoli and tomatoes
  • chicken
  • miso and soybeans
  • mushrooms
  • seaweed


It’s no revelation that many people consume too much salt, leading to an increase in health problems such as hypertension. But most chefs will tell you the right amount of salt can keep a dish from tasting “flat.” A healthier way to work the taste of salt into your diet is to limit your intake of salty processed foods and replace them with these healthier options:

  • anchovies and shellfish such as mussels, clams, and oysters
  • capers and olives
  • feta
  • kimchi and miso
  • seaweed such as wakame, nori, and kelp
  • tamari


No Proof

No Proof

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD