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I cook quite regularly at home, but I have trouble tasting food while cooking. All I want to know is if I should adjust salt, pepper or sourness. On the rare occasions that I taste, I invariable mess up the ingredient that I tasted. For example, I might place a little quantity (enough to lick) on my palm, wait/ blow for it to cool down, taste and adjust for salt. Later when eating the meal, I discover that I have added too much salt.

Any tips?

If it matters - this is South Indian style vegetarian cooking - lentils, vegetables.

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Yes, do as professional chefs do - give it a real raste, not such a small taste that it's only a "lick". You can't properly get the sense of what something tastes like when the amount is that small.

Keep a soup spoon handy as a 'tasting spoon'. When you want to taste your cooking for possible seasoning adjustment, use the larger spoon (used for stirring your cooking) to scoop about a teaspoon of food onto your 'tasting spoon'. You can blow on that without worrying about burning yourself and by putting it a separate spoon, you don't have to get a clean spoon each time. No cross-contamination either.

Don't just swallow that teaspoonful of food either. Savour it. Move it around your mouth so you can taste what it's really like. If you're not sure, take another small spoonful out. You get a much better idea than simply a lick.

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  • Thanks, I think this is the most immediate suggestion for me. I will start by tasting more quantity, and learn as indicated by dlb in the other answer. – user61034 Jun 29 '17 at 3:06
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Tasting while in progress is trial and error and a learned skill. If a sauce needs to cook for an hour or more to meld favors together, it will not taste the same early in the process as the finished product. Some ingredients mellow during the process, others concentrate. Garlic as an example may taste strong to begin with, or be undetectable in other areas until it has melded with the other ingredients. Salt will often become stronger as the product cooks towards completion. The art is learning that at the half way mark knowing what the salt or other ingredient should taste like and how forward it should be to have it where you want in the finished product. If you cannot taste it at all at the half way point, there almost certainly is not enough, but if it tastes like what you want at the end, then you may have too much and need to make other adjustments.

For me, this comes only with experience and you will get that only by consistently tasting and learning what it tasted like in progress when it turns out the way you want in the end. You will definitely make mistakes, the key is remember and learn from those. In the long term, you final results will tend to be better if you go by taste in many products than trying to go by one pinch in this dish, two dashes in this, and so on. Meat is especially notorious for one piece taking more spice than another, but many vegetables are the same way, especially things like onions that can vary in strength, tomatoes that vary in acid, etc.

In learning on some dishes, like sauces, you can even consider dividing into two sauce pans. One you spice a bit heavier than he other, taste side by side, and proceed. Then compare the end product and see which was closer to what you wanted. If both are OK, but one better, you now have a better idea of what the mid point target was, combine them for serving so no loss and remember the lesson.

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  • 1
    And for tastes like salt, pepper and sourness, when you're unsure, start learning "backwards": Start by adjusting as late in the dish as possible. As you cook and gain experience, you will be able to start adjusting them earlier and earlier. I also prefer to use measurable quantities as much as possible, so you can easily keep track of mistakes, i.e. "last time too salty, this time one quarter-teaspoon less". – Willem van Rumpt Jun 28 '17 at 6:34
  • In addition to @WillemvanRumpt 'learn backwards' suggestion, also "learn by scent". For salt this is difficult, for most other seasoning it's pretty easy. A dish will 'smell like' the final outcome much sooner than it will 'taste like' it. – Cos Callis Jun 28 '17 at 17:49
  • Thanks for the suggestion, so I have to keep tasting. I hardly ever taste, and since I messed up a few times, I avoid tasting. – user61034 Jun 29 '17 at 3:04
  • @user61034 Yeah, I went through same thing. I was originally taught not to taste. Claims of unhygienic and such. But once you get used to it, tasting becomes almost 2nd nature and just a routine thing. My partner and I cannot cook at the same time though as we keep tasting, and adjusting the other persons dishes. ;) – dlb Jun 29 '17 at 14:30
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South Indian vegetarian cuisine is often stew-like, no? While many seasoning do need to cook with the dish so that the flavors meld, in most cases, if you add salt, then continue to cook, the end result will be saltier. That is because as you cook, evaporation occurs and the salt becomes more concentrated. I would wait until the cooking is complete, then just before serving taste and adjust seasoning, especially salt.

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Always taste any sauce that you're cooking. If it tastes 'bad' then do something about it. If you're not sure do nothing.

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