When Opposites Attract: A Novel Way to Cope with Cravings

Fruit and cheese make a great sweet-and-savory combo.

Fruit and cheese make a great sweet-and-savory combo.

Candies, cakes, yogurts, coffee, or tea – the flavor of the moment is salted caramel. And while the combination of salty and sweet may seem like the ambidextrous of taste preferences, this east-meets-west flavor mash-up is a hot seller among all. But that’s no surprise to food scientists and culinary connoisseurs who have long known that when it comes to intensifying flavor, opposites do attract.

The combination of sweet caramel with salt is not that new of a concept. Sweet and salty or sweet and savory flavors have long gone hand-in-hand. Some combinations may sound odd – like chocolate covered potato chips, bacon topped ice cream or cheddar cheese on apple pie–these are actually not that different from more popular pairings of pineapple with ham or peanut butter and jelly.

You see, by pairing opposites on the taste spectrum, you can enhance one or both flavors which can work to your advantage when trying to cut calories. No, I’m not suggesting adding bacon to your fruit salad or dipping your veggies in chocolate. But by adding unlikely ingredients to recipes, you can actually intensify flavor and help satisfy cravings easier. Ok, so what about those of you thinking: “when I want sweet, you don’t want anything getting in the way!” Well, I hear you! Believe it or not, by adding just a smidge of something zippy (salty, savory, sour, or spicy/hot), you can enhance the sweet without detecting the other. Here’s how:

Intensify your chocolate: Whether baking brownies, making smoothies, or enjoying hot cocoa, a smidge of cayenne pepper can really intensify the chocolaty perception. Likewise, a sprinkle of ground ginger or a pinch of sea salt can work as well. So if you’re melting chocolate for dipping those berries, try adding a dash of one of these flavor boosters.

Give cottage cheese a try: While the high salt content of cottage cheese may be a deterrent for those with high blood pressure, its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of fruits. So much so, that I find I don’t need to add sweeteners to fruit smoothies when I use cottage cheese. So try it in place of some or all of your yogurt or milk in your next fruity recipe or just pair it with fresh fruit for breakfast or a snack. It’s an excellent source of protein and the potassium in fruit can help counter the negatives of high sodium.

Sweeten up savory dishes: I’ve written about how replacing some calorie dense foods with vegetables is a great way to cut calories without cutting portions. Well, adding fruits to otherwise savory, calorie-dense recipes gives a great taste profile while also cutting calories per serving. Add grapes, chopped apple, or blueberries to chicken or pasta salads, pineapple to stir fries, or sliced peaches to grilled steak or chicken kebobs. Try replacing oil with fruit juices in your dressing and marinades to cut calories and bring out great flavor! Simply swapping calorie-dense crackers with sliced pears, apples or melon to pair with cheese or lean deli meats makes a great sweet-and-savory combination for a personal snack or party platter that offers more nutrients with fewer calories.

What unique combinations do you use to bring out the flavor of your favorite foods? Let us know so we can tell others (Remember – No secret is safe with us!).

Bon Appétit!


Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD, is a registered dietitian with a doctorate in human nutrition, foods, and exercise. She’s worked with academia, government and industry and has several published research studies. She recently started her own practice as independent nutrition consultant for businesses and individuals. You can e-mail Jeannemarie at jbeiseigel@gmail.com. Read Jeannemarie's full bio.

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