Few things are worse than setting down to a meal and taking that first bite only to find that the food is bland. When this occurs, it’s often a result of lack of seasoning or flavoring. As a cook, it’s important to know that the two terms are not the same and that they have different affects on the taste of the foods. Understanding these differences can help you to better increase or supplement the flavor in almost anything that you cook.
The difference between seasonings and flavorings comes down to what affect it has on the food. When flavor is added to food, it is meant to alter the taste by introducing a new flavor, or taste, to the dish. Seasonings do not add a new flavor, but only bring out and enhance the natural taste of food. In some cases the difference between seasoning and flavoring is the amount of the ingredient that is used.
Salt is the most common seasoning in cooking, closely followed by pepper. In addition, white pepper and lemon juice are also examples of seasonings that are frequently found in kitchens. Flavorings include acids such as vinegar, fresh herbs, spices, sugars and even alcoholic beverages such as brandy. Both spices and herbs may be used as either a seasoning or as a flavoring, depending on the amount used. For example, cinnamon is most often used as a flavoring, but in some dishes a small amount might be added to enhance the natural flavor of a dish. Herbs and spices might be combined to create special seasoning blends.
When to Use Flavoring
Add flavorings to your food at any time during the cooking process, depending on what you are cooking and the flavoring that you are using. Most flavorings require heat to activate them and they require the full cooking time to blend with the flavor of the food. There are some ingredients, such as fresh herbs, Worcestershire sauce and sherry, that can successfully be added at the end of the cooking process.
When to Use Seasoning
Seasonings are generally added to food at the end of its cooking cycle and do not require heat for the full effect. For example, after cooking soup, a taste test might reveal that more salt is necessary. Additional salt may then be added even though the cooking process is complete – this is because you are only enhancing the flavor and not attempting to alter it. When cooking larger portions of food; however, such as a large roast, salt is added prior to cooking for better absorption.
References and ResourcesKansas State University Research and Extension; Seasoning with Herbs and Spices, Fact Sheet; Jan Stephens; July 2010
Nutrition for Food Service and Culinary Professionals; Karen Eich Drummond