How To Taste Your Food

Jan 21, 2019 | Cooking Tips

“Season to taste” is a phrase that is often seen at the end of a recipe. I usually write it at the end of all my recipes. However, I have come to realize that not everyone knows how to do this. So, today we are going to talk about how to taste your food and how to season it based on how it tastes.

Seasoning is one of the keys to unlocking the next level of cooking. It is by far the most important part of making food taste good. Master this and you will make better food than you thought possible.

What is seasoning?

The term seasoning is a broad term that generally covers herbs and spices that are added to food to affect the flavour. However, at the end of a recipe, “season to taste” is generally referring to salt and pepper. But, it is also a way for the recipe writer to acknowledge that my 1 tbsp of dried oregano may be different than yours, and that we should taste and adjust as needed.

Differences in ingredients

Ingredients are not all created equal. You can line up 20 chicken legs and they will all be slightly different. Some may have more fat. Some might be dryer. Some might be older. Some may have been fed corn while others were fed grain. All of this will affect the ingredients taste, how they interact with other ingredients, and how they cook.

Let’s go back to oregano for a second. If I have 1 tbsp of home grown, hung dried oregano, it is going to taste a lot different than commercially produced, heat dried oregano. The heat from drying destroys some of the subtle notes in the flavour so the home dried and the factory dried won’t taste the same. 1 tbsp of one doesn’t equal 1 tbsp of the other.

Not all salt and pepper are the same either. Salt especially, has many different varieties which all taste different. They also all dissolve differently in food. So, a recipe may call for 1/2 tsp of salt, but is that table salt, kosher salt, sea salt. All of these salts are very different in a lot of ways.

Over coming the differences

This is the point that I’m trying to make; following a recipe is all well and good and it can yield good food. However, being able to taste and adjust as needed will allow you to make great food. Why? Because ingredients are different. A good cook knows how to listen to their palate and adjust as required.


Being able to taste is only part of the equation. The other part is deciphering what that information means and how to adjust for it. In other words, when I taste a spaghetti sauce, how do I know it needs more oregano instead of more basil? Well, this is where things get a bit complicated.

What it really comes down to is experience. As you cook more, and taste more you kind of build up a flavour library in your mind. You are able to access this library to pick out individual flavours, to notice what’s missing, and to know what’s needed to fill that gap.

What’s really cool, is whether you know it or not, you already have a flavour library in your mind. You have tasted loads of food. You know if something tastes good or bad. You know when adjustments need to be made. You just have to trust that information and actively try to grow and cultivate it.

Fake it till you make it

It is possible to kind of fake your way through this and it’s by using your sense of smell. If I were to taste some spaghetti sauce and I think maybe it could use more oregano here’s what I would do, if I didn’t know what to do.

Taste some sauce. Smell some oregano. Taste the sauce again. On that second taste does it seem like that smell of oregano made the sauce taste better? Did it seem like maybe that oregano was missing or was it over powering?

Once you’re kind of convinced that you need to add a bit more oregano, add only a tiny amount. 1 tsp or less should do it. Stir it in, wait a minute or two and then taste again.

It’s important to remember that one extra tsp of oregano isn’t going to ruin your sauce. But one missing tsp of oregano will be noticed.

Beyond the pretense

In all honesty a large part of this comes down to personal preference. Maybe you like more or less oregano than I do. That’s fine. The real process with all of this is to taste and adjust until it tastes good to you.

Again, it really comes down to experience. The more you cook, the better a cook you will be. The more you taste, the better a taster you will be. You can’t expect to be a great cook if you only cook once a month. You wouldn’t expect to be a great baseball player if you only played once a month, right?

Salty, Acidic, Sweet and Pepper


Here is the thing about salt, you shouldn’t taste it. Salt should be working behind the scenes to enhance the flavours of everything else. So, if you are tasting for salt, whether a dish needs it or not, don’t try to taste salt.

You want to taste for impact. That’s a weird sentence, I know that but bear with me. The question you need to ask yourself is “How impactful is the flavour in this dish?”. Why? Because the salt is ideally going to elevate all of the flavours around it and push them into a harmonious group. That is the power of salt.

I always equate it to playing guitar. If played a slightly out of tune guitar it might sound okay. It will never sound great. But, if I tune that guitar if can sound amazing. That is what salt is. It is tuning the guitar.


If salt is like tuning a guitar, acid is like putting new strings on it. If you don’t know, new strings make a guitar sound bright. There is an almost overpowering brilliance to the sound of new strings. That is the power of acid.

Acid can be a lot of things. There are the obvious ingredients like citrus juice, and vinegar. But tomato is an acidic ingredient as well.

A small amount of acid can go a long way. Too much, can be overpowering. Add acid when a dish seems flat. Meaning, when you taste it your tongue doesn’t get excited. You don’t salivate more than usual.


You know something needs a bit of something sweet if it is too acidic or too spicy. The sweetness can balance that out. Sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or even caramelized onions, or roasted vegetables can add sweetness to a dish.


Pepper is like the most ubiquitous ingredient in western cooking. We put it in everything. Why? Well, it just adds a little tiny bit of warmth to a dish which is good for the palate and for digestion.

Add just enough to feel a slight warming on the tongue but not enough that you can easily pick out the pepper flavour.


This all seems like a very complicated way to say adjust until the food tastes good. That’s it. Just taste it and adjust until you think it’s good. But, always ask yourself “Could this be better?” If the answer is yes, keep going.

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