Acid Redux

acids1In the Los Angeles Times food section today, editor Russ Parsons (also the author of How to Read a French Fry, which I started reading the other day) discussed the benefits of adding acids

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like vinegars to a dish.

How many times have you watched Top Chef, or something like it, and heard the judges say, “It needs more acid” and wondered what exactly that meant? “Needs more acid” used to be my go-to phrase for sounding like a food snob in jest. Then I started to read about more about cooking, and suddenly acid is no joke.

Acidity is sourness. As I mentioned the other day, The Flavor Bible talks a lot about balancing flavors, and sourness is one of those. The book says acid is only second to salt in enhancing flavors. There’s a quote from Sharon Hage, a chef at York Street in Dallas, “We have lemon juice right next to the salt when we cook. Acid is the most important aspect of how a dish tastes — whether it is there as subtle punctuation or an exclamation point!


The LA Times article focuses on vinegars (balsamic, red wine, sherry, apple cider), but I use citrus fruits a lot. Anything Thai or Latin benefits from a squeeze of lime, as something Mediterranean or Middle Eastern will be enhanced with lemon. Oranges are a lot less harsh than their yellow and green cousins, and orange zest adds depth to desserts, like in an apple-cranberry pie.

Wine is great for awakening dishes too. White wine or sherry in a stir-fry marinade or a dry red in tomato sauce are almost critical to me now.

The point is, when something seems sorta blah, a squeeze of citrus or splash of wine or vinegar could be your redemption. The Flavor Bible tells me so.

4 Replies to “Acid Redux”

  1. hey!! thanks for the stopover to our blog. i’m going to spend a bit of time here today (i’m off from work…yeah!). but i’m totally going to have to look into this book. i totally agree about the importance of added acid. in fact, sometimes we add some white wine vinegar to things that ask for a splash of white wine. sometimes it actually ELEVATES a dish (like cooking kale or broccoli rabe or collards). i love the whole agrodolce flavor/taste and vinegar is often the key!

  2. You should definitely check out the Flavor Bible. It lists ingredients like a reference book and then includes all the other flavors that chefs said went well with that ingredient. The bigger and bolder a flavor is listed, the more agreement there was among the chefs. Then it offers cool ‘flavor affinities’ like:

    cauliflower + curry + apple
    cauliflower + garlic + mint + pasta
    cauliflower + bread crumbs + brown butter + parsley
    cauliflower + anchovies + red pepper flakes + garlic + olive oil

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