Tips & Tricks

The Unexpected Savory Ingredient That Makes Strawberries Taste Better

Strawberries are a near-perfect food – but there’s one more ingredient you should add to your arsenal before your next bite.

Strawberries are a near-perfect food. In season, the red tear-shaped fruits are sweet, slightly tangy, and just crisp enough to provide a moment of satisfying resistance to your teeth. They’re juicy and addictive, and most of the time you don’t need to do a single thing to augment them. Of course you’re free to pile them onto shortcakes with whipped cream or use them to top vanilla ice cream. But you can always come back to eating them plain, right from the carton.

There’s one more ingredient you should add to your arsenal before you commit to opening the fridge and eating them unadorned, though. And it’s a savory one. Meet strawberries’ secret best friend: balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar brings out the best in this seasonal gem, and here’s how the flavor pairing works.

A complement…
Strawberries are essentially sweet. Good ones have a bright citrusy undertone and a slightly musky, occasionally floral aroma. Strawberries are also a little fragile, both in taste and to the touch. Too much handling or storage will make them mushy, and too many accompanying tastes can make them disappear. Enter: vinegar. With its syrupy taste, strong tang, and woodsy tones, balsamic vinegar is in many ways the opposite of the strawberry. By providing this contrast, the vinegar can actually make each bite of berry taste even more sweet, even more citrusy, and even more floral than it would have on its own. If you’re skeptical of eliminating the shortbread, the tarts, and the ice cream topping from your strawberry repertoire, don’t worry. Try a dash of balsamic vinegar any time you whip up something with strawberries and see if the flavors don’t sing just a little bit more.

…and a canvas
Yet unlike cream, ice cream, or chocolate—strawberries’ more usual foils—balsamic vinegar fades into the background when added to a strawberry dish. This is not to say that the vinegar’s flavor isn’t strong. It is. Rather, once the vinegar has provided its signature tang, it actually disappears from the palate, leaving your tongue ready to taste the contrasting flavor of the berries. In addition, since vinegar lacks the fat of cream, it doesn’t mask any of the subtle berry notes. So though it might seem strange to reach for an ingredient as pungent as vinegar, in fact it probably detracts less from your berries than something that might seem to be more neutral.

If you’re enamored of the idea of pairing strawberries with something savory, don’t stop at vinegar. Try topping berries with freshly ground black pepper, fresh basil, or tangy plain yogurt.

Here’s the simplest healthy recipe to try. Wash 2 cups of strawberries and slice them into a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon each of sugar and balsamic vinegar. Let sit at room temperature for two minutes so the flavors meld. Meanwhile, combine 2 cups of Greek yogurt with 3 tablespoons of honey. Scoop the yogurt into four small bowls, top with the strawberries, and garnish with mint and fresh pepper.

(Images: Taste, Food Network)

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