I saw this technique mentioned in this Youtube short where the chef makes a burnt onion shrimp curry. In my experience burning stuff is not a good move for making it taste good. Why did it apparently work well here?

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    There are some cuisines where burning stuff is expected, and part of the flavor profile. Mexican food comes to mind where you often char things (sometimes removing the skin after charring). There’s often a line between slightly burned (charred) and completely burned (charcoal; not edible)
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 17:56
  • There's a mediterranean/Middle Eastern dish made with lentils, rice, and "burnt" onions (which I don't recall the name of right now) that is absolutely delish!
    – gnicko
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 19:24

1 Answer 1


I wouldn't call those onions actually "burned", which would be all-black. They're charred, just like you would get if you cooked them on a grill.

Charred onions have a very sophisticated flavor combination. The burned edges are bitter and earthy, and the unburned parts are sweet (just like any very-well-cooked onion is). So out of the five primary flavors, charred onions are adding two of them (bitter and sweet) plus a tiny bit of charcoal flavor. If you add sour (tamarind), umami (shrimp), and presumably some salt (not shown), plus secondary flavors through hot peppers and coconut cream, then you have a dish with a complete set of flavors: bitter, sweet, sour, salty, umami, hot, and fatty. That balance of opposing flavors makes it taste good, and the charcoal flavor from the charred onions makes the shrimp taste "grilled" even though they're not.

Heck, at this point I want to make that curry.

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    Related, when I cook flank steak, I actually like the tips to have some charring, which goes nicely with the mildly acidic and spicy marinade (that I reduce and use as a dipping sauce). The interplay of the spicy/acidic/slightly sweet of the marinade with the bitter of the char is better than with just the meat alone Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 22:20
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    what is this classification of flavours to primary and secondary
    – Babu
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 7:47
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    Reine: the primary flavors are the ones that we have actual tastebuds for: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami. Anything else general (e.g. spicy) is a secondary flavor.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 16:50
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    @FuzzyChef ‘Spicy’ (referring to pungency, not spices like cinnamon or nutmeg) isn’t even really a flavour at all, since it’s not perceived or processed by the taste buds – or at least, it’s not a taste. In a broader sense, ‘flavour’ may also include things like pungency (mild/hot), temperature (hot/cold) or texture (creamy/runny), but even so, pungency is still of a different category than sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 12:44
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    When I was saying "spicy" I specifically meant capsaicin, which is a specific chemical. It's not processed by the taste buds but rather by other parts of the mouth and throat.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 17:02

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