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I think we can all agree that a big juicy burger and fries sounds more palatable than a plate of plain chicken and steamed broccoli. Do you understand why? It is the same concept when we crave overly processed foods like chips, cookies, ice cream etc.

Have you ever wondered why you crave these processed foods and never crave healthier, natural foods? Here's why: processed foods have been made to be hyper-palatable. Your taste buds get flooded with high levels of sugars and fats to give your brain a massive hit of dopamine every time you eat them, leaving you wanting more.

Now the question stands, how can we improve the taste of food without adding a ton of sugar and fat to it? The answer, my friends, are seasonings! Reliable recipes and fancy kitchen equipment will get you far, but knowing how to get the most from seasonings can make a big difference (especially on a budget).

The difference between spices and herbs Not only is there a difference between spices and seasonings, but it’s also important to establish the difference between spices and herbs. Herbs are the leaves and stems of a plant, while spices are the dried, root, seeds, or bark of a plant. Herbs are best when used fresh to finish or garnish a dish, but can also be used in dried form when you’re using them at the beginning of a recipe. They can come in either whole or ground form. You’ll often see ground spices a lot more frequently than whole spices since they’re a bit more convenient to cook with.

Here are 7 ways to improve the flavor of your food with seasonings:

1. Lower the salt and add in acid

In addition to grabbing the saltshaker to boost flavor in soups, stews, and sauces, try a drop of lemon juice or vinegar. Like salt, acid competes with bitter flavor compounds, reducing our perception of them as they compliment other flavors. Just a dash (1/8 teaspoon) can go a long way.

2. Use coarse salt when seasoning meat

Use kosher salt rather than table salt when seasoning meat. The larger grains distribute more easily and cling well to the meat’s surface.

3. Pep up (or tone down) your pepper

The timing of when you add pepper to your meat will affect the strength of its flavor. If you want assertive pepper flavor, season meat after searing. Keeping the pepper away from heat will preserve its volatile compounds. Alternatively, seasoning before cooking will tame pepper’s punch.

4. Season cold foods aggressively

Chilling foods will dull the flavors and aromas, so it’s important to compensate by seasoning generously. To keep from overdoing it, season with a normal amount of salt before chilling; then taste and add more salt as desired just before serving.

5. Incorporate fresh herbs at the right time

Add hearty herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, bay leaves and marjoram to dishes early on in the cooking process; this way, they release maximum flavor while ensuring that their texture will be less intrusive. Save delicate herbs like parsley, cilantro, tarragon, chives, and basil for the last minute, lest they lose their fresh flavor and bright colors.

6. Add a dash of umami

Common pantry staples like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies contain high levels of glutamates that can give a savory umami boost to a dish. Try mixing a teaspoon or two of soy sauce into chili or adding a couple of finely minced anchovies to a reduction or braise.

7. Make adjustments when seasonings go wrong

If you’ve added too much salt, sugar, or spice to a dish, the damage is usually done. In mild cases, however, the overpowering ingredient can sometimes be masked by the addition of another from the opposite end of the flavor spectrum. Always remember to account for the reduction of liquids when seasoning a dish. A perfectly seasoned stew will likely taste too salty after several hours of simmering. Your best bet is to season with a light hand during the cooking process and then adjust the seasoning just before serving.

  • If the food is too salty: add an acid or sweetener such as vinegar; lemon or lime juice; canned, unsalted tomatoes; sugar, honey, or maple syrup.

  • If the food is too sweet: add an acid or seasonings such as vinegar or citrus juice; chopped fresh herb; dash of cayenne; or, for sweet dishes, a bit of liqueur or espresso powder

  • If the food is too spicy or acidic: add a fat or sweetener such as butter, cream, sour cream, cheese, or olive oil; sugar, honey, or maple syrup

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