Salt | Fat | Acid | Heat Pt. 2 - ACID

Brought to you by Chef Kai

Hello Cultivatr Fans, 

 We are back again and picking up where we left off in part 1 of the series. As we talked about previously, our palate identifies five basic tastes: Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Umami. The key to making great tasting food is preparing dishes with balanced flavours  that typically include all of  the above tastes. Today we will examine the role of Acid in cooking. 

An acid is defined as any substance that has a pH below 7 on a pH meter. The term pH stands for the "power of hydrogen" which measures the acidity or alkalinity in foods, beverages, and more. The total pH scale ranges from one to 14, with seven considered to be neutral. 

You might be thinking what is “acid” when it comes to cooking and cuisine? When we think of acid, our minds lean towards vinegars or lemon juice, but there are a plethora of “acids” that are used in everyday cooking and for different purposes.

Cooking with Acid

This can be construed in many ways. From using acid to help balance and season a dish, to using acid to help “cook” a dish and using acids in baking and fermentation purposes. 

Seasoning with Acid

Firstly, acid as a seasoning is probably what most people are familiar with. A splash of acid can help round out a dish (such as using wine) or help to brighten and balance a dish (lemon juice).  Acids in cooking will help wake up your dish and take it to the next level. If you are finding your dish tastes a little muddled and bland, a hit of salt and acid can be just the trick. Whether it’s a splash of sherry vinegar to wake up a tomato sauce or a fresh squeeze of lemon juice over a beautiful piece of fish to make it pop, acids go a long way for using just a little. 

When you think about it, most condiments we use on food are acid based, whether it’s hot sauce, salsas, mustards, prepared horseradish, salad dressings and so on. These are flavour boosters and work with the existing dish to help strengthen their flavour profiles. 


The other way we can use acids is to “cook” proteins. This is a bit of a misnomer, as the acids do not actually cook in the sense of heat but instead help to denature the proteins in meat to make them more digestible and firm up texture. The most common use of this application would be a ceviche, where fresh seafood is marinated in lime juice or other acids. You can visibly see the proteins tighten up and even change color to a degree.  Another application would be adding either lemon juice or straight white vinegar to a pot of boiling water to poach eggs. The acid in the water helps bind and tighten up the egg white to form perfect poached eggs!

Acids can also help tenderize proteins as well. If you’ve ever had really good moist and tender fried chicken, it’s most likely due to being marinated in buttermilk overnight. This is a great way to help marinate and tenderize chicken while imparting flavour as well. 


If you are familiar with baking then you might understand the concept of how we make batters rise. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) produces carbon dioxide when activated with acidic liquids such as buttermilk or yogurt; the gas emitted from the reaction causes batters to rise and the heat of the oven then sets the risen batter. 


Foods such as sauerkraut, kosher dill pickles, kimchi, and kombucha get their acidic tang from natural fermentation. Over time, natural and healthy bacteria convert sugar in the raw ingredients into lactic acid, which then “pickles” the food. Humans have been preserving food via fermentation for ages, the acids developed in the fermentation process make it inhabitable for bad bacteria thus preserving and extending the shelf life of the product. 

Kitchen Tips

  • Don’t forget to use citrus zest for added acidity and a more flavourful pop to your dishes
  • Use lemon/lime juice to help stop browning on cut fruits and vegetables such as apples and avocados
  • Don’t forget to cook out your wine when using it. Raw wine tossed in a sauce will just taste like wine. After you have finished sautéing, deglaze with wine (red or white) to build flavours and cook until almost evaporated. Then throw in your remaining ingredients and simmer. 
  • Don’t have buttermilk? Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice to 1 cup of milk and let stand for 5-10min

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