Creating a balanced and harmonious flavor in a dish is an art form that master chefs must master. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami are the five gustatory elements that make up our general perception of flavor. When each element is perfectly balanced, not just on the plate, but in an entire meal, the dining experience is elevated. Chefs must develop their ability to create flavor through combinations of complementary foods, condiments and cooking techniques.
The perception of these flavors occurs through all the senses when we eat, but particularly through the flavor, aroma and textures of food. Everyone's ability to distinguish taste is different, and some people are more sensitive than others. While some may have a natural knack for critical analysis of a dish, most chefs must train their palates to recognize the characteristics of the ingredients and learn to combine them in certain proportions to achieve a harmonious result. Acidity can be used to balance a dish, adding vivacity and counteracting sweetness and warmth.
Pickles and other acidic ingredients also remove 26% of rich fatty ingredients. That's why a spoonful of yogurt is perfect for a spicy curry or stew. It helps to counteract that richness and that warmth, creating a new balance of flavors. However, great chefs know how to use bitter flavors to highlight foods and achieve a perfect balance, especially against other strong flavors.
Think of whiskey cocktails with bitters or a perfectly roasted cup of coffee. In order to create balanced and harmonious flavors in their dishes, chefs must understand the five gustatory elements and how they interact with each other. They must also be able to recognize the characteristics of each ingredient and learn how to combine them in certain proportions to achieve the desired result. Finally, they must be able to use acidity and bitterness to highlight foods and create a perfect balance.