Discover dishes for every palate, whether you like sour, sweet, salty, bitter or umami
By Sally MacKinnon
Without the aid of our noses, human beings can taste five different flavours: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and umami. We’ve scoured the city and found dishes that celebrate each sensation, but be forewarned: these are picks for true connoisseurs.
Taste buds that detect sour are in fact measuring acidity; lemons, for example, are five per cent citric acid. Sour suckers and Cry Babies are beloved childhood candies, but sour also has a bad rap thanks to its presence in expired foods—milk is a typical example. For a sour sensation that is nothing but pleasant, we recommend the lemon curd tart at Brûlée Patisserie, made with a shortbread crust and topped with fresh fruit.
It doesn’t take a sweet tooth to appreciate a good dose of sugar; evolutionary biologists tell us that human beings are hard-wired to love sweetness because glucose (sugar in its most basic form) is high energy. The most common sources of sweet are refined sugar and fruit, so we’ve found an entree that combines the two: honey-roasted cashews and sautéed diced fruit served in a golden nest, from Chinatown’s Silver Dragon Restaurant.
Salt is another taste that humans crave, and for good reason: sodium and chloride (the basic components of salt) are vital electrolytes. Nutritionists recommend no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day, but the Canadian average is more than one-third above that, at 3,092 mg. To get a good dose of salt without inviting hypertension, we’ve chosen the bacon-wrapped bison at Bistro Twenty Two Ten, served with gravy, roasted baby potatoes and seasonal vegetables. If you prefer your salt unadulterated, we have yet to find a dish more intense than the salt & pepper chicken wings at Aussie Rules Foodhouse + Bar.
Bitter is a taste that is often relegated to the sidelines. Its most common examples are olives, coffee, cocoa, beer and greens such as a radicchio, but these ingredients are usually combined with (and overpowered by) other flavours. But, bitter is back in vogue; just look at the popularity of espresso, dark chocolate and India Pale Ale. We’ve picked two dishes that prominently feature bitter ingredients: Newport Grill’s spiced coffee-crusted tenderloin with pan-seared sea prawns, and the 72 per cent Valrhona chocolate and organic peanut butter torte from Raw Bar.
Umami is the new taste on the block. It is a Japanese word that roughly means “meaty,” but savoury would be a better descriptor. It is best experienced in meat, vegetables like mushrooms and truffles, and fermented and aged foods—Parmesan cheese and red wine are prime examples. The taste comes from glutamate, and scientists think we have evolved to crave umami because it helps us identify protein-heavy foods. In keeping with umami’s Japanese roots, we’ve chosen miso ramen with pork from Shikiji Japanese Noodle House.