Strong flavors overwhelm the palate, making it difficult to experience delicate flavors in the next course without a palate cleanser between courses. Your palate might have trouble enjoying the delicate flavors of angel food cake, for example, after you finish a spicy Thai dish because the palate adapts to flavors. Palate cleaners consumed between courses neutralize the palate, cleansing any lingering flavors. This also aids in distinguishing subtle differences in similar dishes like mild and medium salsa.
Crackers and Bread
Take a trip to a winery for a wine tasting, and you’re likely to find an offering of hearty white bread or unsalted crackers to cleanse the palate before you taste the next wine. Water crackers, made simply with water and flour, are widely used among food testers and at wine tastings because they have been proven to be the most effective at cleansing the palate. Saltine crackers can also be used, but the dusting of salt doesn’t neutralize the palate as efficiently as plain crackers. Plain white bread, which also works well as a palate cleanser, is often eaten after consuming spicy foods. After eating the bread or cracker, wash it down with a few sips of mineral water before the next wine or course.
Tart and Acidic Foods
Turn to a tart or acidic item to cleanse the palate after eating fatty or rich foods. According to the book, “Sensory Evaluation: A Practical Handbook,” a bite of tart apple cleanses the palate after eating chocolate. Pickled food works well as a palate cleanser, but look for foods with a limited number of ingredients. A common example is pickled ginger, which is offered as a palate cleanser when sampling different types of sushi. Citric acid foods are also proven palate cleansers. After eating garlic-heavy foods, try a bite of pineapple or a bit of lemon juice before eating delicate tilapia or other white fish.
Salad is often thought of as a first course, a primer to prepare the palate for a rich main course, but it can also be served as a palate cleanser after the main course. Keep the salad light, avoiding ingredients such as pungent peppers and radishes, astringent green apples and grapes, and bitter foods like broccoli and beets. Iceberg lettuce, with its high water content and light flavor, is suitable for the palate-cleansing course. Other greens to consider include escarole, and frisee, perhaps accompanied by mild cucumbers, celery and tomatoes. Boost the palate-cleansing power with a vinegar or citric-acid based dressing instead of rich, creamy dressing. Finish with a mild cheese such as some chopped walnuts.
Sorbet and Ice Cream
Not just for the dessert course, sorbets in a variety of flavors are often offered in restaurants as a palate cleanser between courses throughout a meal. High-acid sorbets, including sweet lemon and lime sorbet, as well as savory tomato sorbet, help cleanse rich, fatty flavors such as roast beef. After eating astringent foods such as lentil soup or tea with high tannins, tone down the flavor with a light melon sorbet. According to “Sensory Evaluation: A Practical Handbook,” spicy foods are best cleansed with dairy products, so use sherbet, which contains milk or even ice cream. When you’re eating spicy foods, ice cream acts as its own palate cleanser, eliminating the need for an additional palate cleanser before the dessert course.
References and ResourcesSensory Evaluation: A Practical Handbook; Sarah Kemp
Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good; Barb Stuckey
Food University: Food: Salad Philosophy
North Dakota State University Extension: Prairie Fare: Just for Dessert -- Not
The Washington Post: Winter Sorbet
Wine Lovers Page: Cleansing the Palate: What to Use?
Wine Fest Fort Collins: Wine Tasting Tips
Epicurious: Recipes: Fennel, Frisee, and Escarole Salad
Eating Well: Recipes: Ginger Sorbet