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Celebrating the tart taste sensation - not salty, sweet, bitter, hot, even...

...savory. I have my doubts about the "6th taste" umami. Another topic, another time.

Tart taste seems relatively overlooked.

Salt - we know exactly how much we want. It could be a little less, a little more, but too much less or too much more and the food tastes awful.

Sweet - it depends on the context. Are we talking wine or Turkish delights? Again, not too little or not too much.

Hot - now, it's a challenge. How much chili pepper can you REALLY take, huh, showoff? It seems there's no limit for some people. Some people could do without it altogether.

Bitter is pretty much unexplored. Again, another time.

Now, sour. Have you ever had something so deliciously tart you wanted more even though it made your mouth pucker? How much more tart (tarter?) can you take?

I am trying my hardest to remember the name of an LA restaurant (a 2-syllable name - on La Cienega?) where I once had a whole platter of the tartest berry desserts I've ever had. It was pleasurable in a painful sort of way.

Severely tart things you've tasted? Liked, even?

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  1. i used to peel and eat whole lemons as a kid. i love tart foods. sour tangerines, mangoes, kumquats, etc. i agree that tartness isn't discussed as much. but the balance of acidity is really important for good salad dressings, for example. people go on about the sweetness of fresh fresh in sushi, but i hardly hear anybody talk about the vinegared rice that sushi gets its name from.

    1. I love sour!

      Currently I am addicted to citron presse -- which, in Paris, is brought to you as a glass of straight lemon juice (generally around 6oz), with a small side pitcher of water and the sugar dispenser. You add as much water to your lemon as you wish (or none at all) with as much or as little sugar.

      Cape gooseberries are some of the sourest things I've had -- though I found out the hard way that eating a quart can cause tummy trouble.

      I have been known to eat a lick of "sour salt" (citric acid) and occasionally add it to my guacamole to pump up the sour. I also add it to my lemon tart filling for the same reason.

      1. I like tart but not necessarily sour. The tartness of really good lemon curd for instance. But it is tempered with sugar but hopefully not too much. But flat out sour all on it's own I'm not crazy about

        1. I like "tart" as well -- it's probably my favorite single "flavor" although I usually think of it as "bright." It's as intrinsic to the enjoyment food as any other "taste" -- when you hear people talk about something needing acid or having a good acid balance, that's what they mean.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Perfection for anybody lies somewhere in the middle.


            We individually adjust it just like the way we adjust the brightness and contrast bar (it came in handy today).

            It may verge on too technical, but sometimes I think it would be neat to have a common understanding of tastes we can fine-tune and compare for the foods we love, like preferences for "sleep number" beds (whatever that is), or Pantone designer color number, you know?

            1. re: grocerytrekker

              Yeah, that would be way cool. It would also help you decide where and what to eat. For example, there's a chef I love, and I think it's because his palate is very similar to mine. So using your "sleep number" analogy, if my "taste number" was 85, I could look for chefs whose number is close to that, and have a pretty good idea I'd like the way their food tastes. On the other hand, if a chef was a 40, I might decide to go elsewhere. Actually, I like the idea of a color spectrum: it's much less judgmental; and I've always thought of some flavors being "red" flavors (roasted, toasted, "rich")and some being "green" flavors (bright, fresh, acidic).

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                This makes you think... it really doesn't work until we arbitrarily assign something to the shades of the color spectrum.

                Red - hot chilies, cinnamon "hot"
                Orange - curry flavors, nutty flavors, savory seafood flavors
                Yellow - buttery, cheesy, sweet
                Green - crisply tart
                Blue - salt
                Indigo - bitter
                Violet - perfume, menthol, wasabi, the olfactory influence

                This can be fun!

          2. Several years ago, eGullet ran a wonderful series on the Science of the Kitchen that included a 2-part course on Taste and Texture by Janet Zimmerman. This is a highly informative document that goes over the 4 tastes plus 1 (Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter plus Umami). She documents the physiology of the tongue, the effects of the olfactory sense, and many other factors. Part two delves into textures. In fact "Hot" is a chemosensory perception, which she goes into in the texture discussion, not as a taste. These documents (part 1 and 2) are still there and definitely worth the reading, especially when we think about having a common set of analysis tools to talk to. Otherwise we'll all start discussing the 13th taste...

            Here's part 1 - dig around for part 2:

            1. I really like big flavors, including acidity.

              I always add a lot of vinegar to my home made salad dressings.

              Also, I much prefer sour kimchi to fresh kimchi so I always let the jar sit in the fridge for a few weeks before eating (or let it sit on the counter for a few days).

              1 Reply
              1. re: Humbucker

                I'm with you on the kimchee. It's always disappointing when it's fresh.

              2. Another example of the sour taste being underrepresented -
                I have Harold McGee's book which I've recently started to reference.

                Under flavors he lists the tastes as salty, sweet, sour, savory, bitter. To read further, I go to the Index page and look up these individual tastes. I find all the rest - salt, sweetness, bitter, savory...but NO SOUR! I look up "tart" - not there. Under ACID I find "flavor of" and back to the original flavors page.

                I will look again closely, but this is no accident. Sweet wins over sour - so far.

                We expect so much more from you, Harold.

                2 Replies
                1. re: grocerytrekker

                  Sour/tart/acid obviously needs better PR!

                  1. re: grocerytrekker

                    One of the four major sections of Hervé This's book Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor is called _The Physiology of Flavor_. He does point to the same 4 flavors, and he has a couple of chapters devoted to the 5th (savory/umami), where he details the work done to detect Glutamate receptors and their connections (sensory vs. nueral). He has a chapter that deals with salt. And then he has a chapter that details the 5 different bitter tastes - once again going into detail on the cell receptor combinations that operate with these 5 types of bitter.

                    Nothing on sour...

                    He obviously did not grow up with sweet tarts.

                  2. I love the tart. My favorite snacks of all time are those bordering on the strong acidic flavors - thai tamarind candies, japanese su-kombu (literal translation is vinegar seaweed) and the mango enchilado which you can find in the latin bodegas in around Queens and Brooklyn. Tart balanced with wicked heat of chili powder. Yummy.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kayonyc

                      YUM! See, this is a great example of why I LOVE Chowhound! I ADORE both of those treats (any chewy tamarind candies and Japanese su-kombu-- of which I finished a pack of just minutes ago,) but I have yet to try this mango enchilado which sounds positively delicious to me!! So nearly 4 years later, this thread is still alive and useful to me. Thank you kayonyc! And, like luv2bake below, my mouth is watering in delight. I love sour/tart/bright flavors and I love that there are so many people who like to chat about loving sour things together! (It gets me all worked up, see?) :D

                    2. Is my mouth the only one watering like crazy?!

                      I love sour. I used to eat lemons all the time as a kid -- when my mom wasn't watching. She'd fuss at me about ruining my teeth.

                      To name a few: A tart/sweet rhubarb pie is awesome. Some tart berries, grapefruit, and an excellent lemon curd.

                      1. Those crazy vinegar and salt potato chips...my salivary glands contract just thinking of it.

                        I also like a nice tamarind drink if it isn't sweetened too much.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Snackish

                          Oh, my gosh, how could I forget that? I LOVE those things.

                          Where I lived as a child in NE Ohio, we ate salt & vinegar on our fries all the time. Everyone did. They even had (have) giant containers of vinegar at the food shacks at amusement parks up there.


                        2. I love tart, it wakes up every sense I have. I like tart peppery greens combined with a vinegarette. I think it started with my trying lemon sherbert with rasberries as kid. As I recall the sherbert wasn't sugary and the rasberries were fresh. I had some amazing chowish experiences as a kid, but that was turning point for me.

                          1. I think a lot of kids like sour, I too ate lemons as a kid (still eat slices but not whole ones, and I eat the peel). If you look at the candy available out there, you will see that there is a market for extremely sour candy. And some of this stuff is REALLY sour!

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: prunefeet

                              I agree. I still love sour, but I find most adults (at least the ones I know) aren't crazy about it. (There goes my mouth watering again! lol That's so funny. I should change my ID to pavlov!)

                              When my son was a baby - about 5 months old, maybe? - we took him to a Mexican restaurant with us. We gave him a taste of lime. I wish upon wish that I had had a video camera that night. He made the most horrible squinched-up face, shook his head, his whole body shivered, and then he opened his mouth for more. We cracked up. We repeated that whole sequence probably 10 times. Other diners I'm sure were ready to take him away and report us to the authorities for abuse.

                              And you're also right about some of the REALLY sour things. They are deliciously killer!

                              1. re: luv2bake

                                No, your mouth isn't the only one watering. One more sour thing kids like: "sourgrass" (Bermuda buttercup oxalis).

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Oh yes! We used to run out in the fields behind our school to pick it and to suck the stems.

                                  1. re: Snackish

                                    Yup, my friends and I would pick armfuls of it in the spring.

                                    I was in the grocery yesterday and saw they had new crop of kumquats -- I love kumquats! Trader Joe's sometimes has 12-ounce boxes and I can eat the whole thing in a couple of sittings. Last spring I bought a Calamondin orange bush; everyone else at my gathering thought they were too tart, but I loved them.

                                    PS: Your dog? Mine, too.

                              2. re: prunefeet

                                lemons with salt until your teeth hurt! and those little salted plums, remember those? very tart and salty. i prefer sour/tangy to sweet any day. green apples, green grapes... as a kid, sweet tarts, those jolly rancher apple sticks.... and yeah - fish and chips with lots of salt and vinegar, yum....

                              3. Preserved tamarind balls, coated with powderd red chile.

                                1. Excerpts form an interesting study done in Taiwan (Food Industry Research and Development Institute)

                                  "Demographic factors affecting preferences for sour foods

                                  Since sour may decay the teeth of the older, the older may not prefer it.
                                  Demographic factors including gender, age, education, occupation and others were used in logistic model as explanatory variables.
                                  It was found that those who more liked to eat sour were the females with the relevant odd ratio 1.360. The older were those who disliked eating sour, with the relevant odd ratio 0.992. The results proved our hypotheses that the females liked to eat sour and the older disliked sour.
                                  To develop food for the older, it is advised that less sour may make a good performance in marketing."

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: grocerytrekker

                                    interesting, what do older women prefer?