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Flavors to Savor Throughout the Year

assorment of vingar bottles

Low-salt recipes are usually delicious. That’s because when you forgo salty flavors, you experience the other tastes that make food so enjoyable. These flavorful options will not disappoint your palette.

Sweet flavors

Humans are hard-wired to enjoy sweetness. You can use less salt if you try these ideas:

  • Add a teaspoon or so of vanilla to baked goods, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it. Vanilla is a flavor enhancer—it perks up the other flavors in a recipe.
  • Unless you need to restrict carbs, add a tablespoon or two of sugar to slow-cooked tomato sauce, made from either canned, low-salt tomatoes or fresh.
  • Add a serving of fruit to your meal. Try cinnamon applesauce with pork, cranberry sauce with chicken, or canned peaches with meatloaf.

Sour flavors

The taste of sour wakes up taste buds to the flavors in your recipes. Salt tends to drown out other flavors, while sour tastes enhance them.

  • Add a few tablespoons of lemon, lime, or orange juice to recipes. A squirt of lemon juice over carrots cooked with a little sugar will bring out the caramelized goodness. A squeeze of lime juice on fish or seafood will bring you the flavors of Mexico, and orange juice drizzled over a salad adds both a sweet and sour pop to your meal.
  • Use the peels of lemons, limes, or oranges to add even more flavor. Use a grater or lemon zester to make thick or fine citrus peel and add to salads, ice cream, desserts, and marinades.
  • Use fruit-flavored vinegars in salads and marinades. Try apple cider vinegar or make your own. Sprinkle over roasted vegetables or drizzle over baked, grilled, or fried fish.

Bitter flavors

The taste of fresh herbs is often described as bitter. I don’t like the sound of the word, but the flavor itself really sparks my interest.

  • Take the parsley challenge! Buy a bunch of parsley. Cut off the bottom half-inch and put the remaining parsley in a glass of water on your kitchen counter. Every time you cook, grab a handful, chop it, and throw it in meals. Add it to stir-fries, meatloaf, hamburger patties, fresh salads, or chicken, tuna, or egg salad for sandwiches. Its green, vibrant taste will make most any food taste better.
  • After you take the parsley challenge, experiment with other fresh herbs. Buy a potted herb garden for your front porch to get months of fresh herbs.

Umami flavors

Most people don’t know the word umami, but they love the meaty, broth-like flavor umami brings to food. Umami is best developed by using a slow cooker. Instead of using a microwave, slow-cook chicken and dumplings or roast beef and potatoes in your oven. Other tips:

  • Add grated Parmesan cheese to any vegetable—a small amount over food will give you that boost you are looking for.
  • Sauté mushrooms and add to soups, meat entrees, and pastas. Mushrooms are full of umami.
  • Use sun-dried tomatoes and tomato paste. Both are high umami foods and are often unsalted.
  • Add vegetables like celery, Chinese cabbage, spinach, and leeks. They all add umami zest to meals.

Hot flavors

If you love spicy foods, you have a ready-made path to a healthy, lower-salt diet. Even if you don’t like spicy hot food, a tiny bit of heat can perk up bland dishes.

  • Add a pinch of cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lime juice to a fruit salad to turn it into a salsa.
  • Add a little wasabi paste to homemade vinegar and oil salad dressings.
  • Try a favorite hot sauce with noodles, rice, or stir-fries. Sriracha, Tapatio, Tabasco, even Mongolian Fire Oil are low in sodium if the serving size is reasonable.
  • Add ginger to meat marinades, stir-fries, and salad dressings. It gives extra zip to lots of desserts and muffins.

Contributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. See more of Katy’s recipes at

Posted in Food