Seven Taste Toppings To (Always) Have In Your Kitchen
Are you looking for new ways to add spark and taste to your dishes?
Here is a list of my current favorite taste toppings, must have ingredients that add flavor to even the blandest foods.
Even if these flavor enhancers seem a bit expensive on a first look, keep in mind that a little touch goes long on the tongue and nose for flavor. Your better tasting dishes will be a hit with your children, especially if you are looking for way to have them eat more vegetables because most of these ingredients bring out good taste of salads and vegetables.
Some of these seven taste toppings might be hard to find where you live. When possible, I have put an image link on where to purchase them online.
1. Fleur de Sel
Fleur de Sel is number one on my list because it is versatile and makes any food taste better. The best Fleur de Sel is from Guerande, in Brittany, where it is hand-picked. If you are traveling to France, pick a kilo or two at the grocery to put in your suitcase, this wonderful salt is worth the luggage space.
One of my favorite food writers, David Lebovitz, describes Fleur de Sel from Guerande as
“delicate and sea-salty, tasting vaguely of the ocean, like the fine salt that you taste licking your lips after a day at the beach”
David has a knack for writing about food that makes you feel like you are there tasting it. His favorite salt is Fleur de Sel from Guerande.
My favorite way to use Fleur de Sel is on vegetables, raw or cooked. It tastes exceptional on sliced tomatoes, baby radishes, or dressed on a salad.
This salt is a topping and you don’t cook with it. Experiment and add a sprinkle to your finished simple dishes. A little sprinkle goes a long way. I buy one of these tubs (see image below) and it lasts about 6 months. It is expensive outside of France (I buy this brand for about 3 euros/3 dollars a tub, on this link it is 16 dollars for two tubs) but well worth the investment!
2. Walnut Oil
My second favorite taste topping is walnut oil. My advice is to skip the cheaper walnut oils and buy the best quality walnut oil you can find within your budget. Just like the Fleur de Sel, with walnut oil, a little goes a long way with flavor.
My absolute favorite way to use walnut oil mixed in a vinaigrette to top a green salad. My kids also taste the difference when I make vinaigrette with walnut oil. They comment “Mom, make the vinaigrette like this all the time.” It also tastes wonderful when topped on pears and cheese.
We get walnut oil from smaller producers. These artisans don’t sell their walnut oil online. Perhaps there is a walnut oil producer near where you live? California produces a lot of walnut oil.
Here is a link to a French walnut oil from France that you can buy on Amazon. I have not tasted it, but if you have never used walnut oil, this could be a good starting point.
3. Pink Peppercorns
This is my new favorite taste topping. I am discovering lots of new ways to use pink peppercorns. In French these red balls (which are not peppers but are berries from a plant) are called Baies Roses.
Max Falkowitz from Serious Eats tells it better than me:
Pink peppercorns are also superb substitutions for more exotic applications of black pepper, such as ice cream, chocolate (especially with rose water), and popcorn. Their delicate fruitiness can be a revelation to those who’ve only had black pepper before. These spicy, dried berries possess a deeper, more rounded pepperiness than the brash piper nigrum.
I experiment using baies roses with different dishes. Here is my beet vinaigrette recipe topped with greek yogurt and pink peppercorns. The pink peppercorns add the right crunch and flavor (and they look pretty too).
These pink gems are easy to find here in France. But if you want to try them and your local supermarket doesn’t stock, you can order from Amazon.com. Here is a link, click on the image.
4. Sherry Vinegar
Two years ago, while on a trip to Spain, I discovered authentic aged Jerez Sherry Vinegar. I was enamored by the soft flavor of this vinegar. Now I use sherry vinegar as much as my other favorite-balsamic vinegar. And this vinegar is one to always have in your kitchen, because once you start using it you will see the opportunities for topping it on many of your favorite foods.
As Miki Kawaski states in a recently published and excellent article on “Why Sherry Vinegar Deserves to Be Your One True Vinegar”
Sherry vinegar is loaded with complex, nutty flavors you won’t find in other vinegars. Its 80 distinct aromatic compounds translate into more interesting salad dressings and crazy-good accents in soups and pan sauces that apple cider or rice vinegar could never hope to imitate.
My favorite way to use sherry vinegar, besides in a vinaigrette, is a splash on roasted shrimp or fish, on roasted tomatoes, on good cured Iberia jamon (ham from Spain), or as a deglaze or sauce mixed with honey for duck.
Here is Amazon link for a good quality sherry vinegar.
5. Raw Honey
Number 5 on my list is raw honey, a sweet taste that not only packs flavor but has medicinal properties. Raw honey means it has not been heated past pasteurization (definition of raw honey here). The best place to buy raw honey is at farmer’s markets or direct with bee keepers.
Honey is the only sweet taste topping on the list. Authentic sweetness goes a long way for flavor, both on the taste on the tongue and the perception of the clash between sweet and sour, or sweet and salty. This type of honey should never be heated because you lose the potential healing aspects of the honey with heat.
My favorite ways to use raw honey is topped on pancakes, in plain yogurts, in salad dressings, on roasted meats.
6. Brewer’s Yeast
We are addicted to a brewer’s yeast from Gerble called “Levure de Biere” but it is difficult to find outside of France.
The taste of brewer’s yeast is yeasty, cheesy, toasty. I love this taste (and so do half of my kids who pile it on their salads). Brewer’s yeast is so packed full of essential vitamins, like Vitamin B, I feel like I get double benefit: taste and nutrition.
We sprinkle it on green salads, or cooked vegetables. But online I found out that this yeast makes a delicious popcorn topping!
C’est un vrai dommage (real shame) that you cannot find my favorite brand of Brewer’s Yeast outside of France, but here is a link for a brand called Solgar.
7. Organic Citrus
The last (but not least) addition on the taste topping list is citrus. I use citrus either as a zest or juice as a topping. I recommend using organic citrus if you zest because then you will avoid adding the pesticides in the peels.
One of my favorite ways to add taste is to zest the peel of citrus into finished meat stews, like ossobuco and other rich meaty stews. Adding just the citrus juice to different foods is a way to add flavor without adding salt (for those on a salt restriction diet).
I use lemons to flavor our drinking water, and as a vitamin C boost to finished soups and rice. Lime juice adds a complex flavor to fish dishes. My kids appreciate the grapefruit pieces and juice that adds taste and nutrition to green salads and other fruit salads.
All this writing is making me hungry. It is lunch time here, so I will gather some taste toppings and put together something to eat.
Do you have a unique taste topping that you would add to this list? Please let us know by commenting below this article.
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