I first learned the 5 Ss from an article explaining the necessary components of any marinade. Sweet, Salty, Sour, Spicy and Savory mixed with a fat makes a marinade. You can make endless marinades by mixing up things you like in each of the 5 Ss. But these 5 are also the backbone to balancing anything you cook. Soup or stir fry or marinara or dip or almost anything you cook will taste better if you have all 5Ss.
1. Sweet – sugars, honey, molasses, syrup.
2. Salty – salt, soy sauce, fish sauce, etc.
3. Sour (Acid) – citrus or vinegar or wine
4. Spicy – pepper, chilies, red chili flake, hot sauce, cayenne, chili powder
5. Savory – Almost any form of garlic (minced fresh, granulated or powdered) or sometimes ginger or onion can count.
Once I learned the 5 Ss, I saw them everywhere.
For instance, spaghetti sauce usually has of course tomatoes (which are fruit and are sweet as well as acidic, sour) and salt and garlic and some spice, usually red pepper flake. If my own tastes flat I add red wine vinegar (sour) and up to a teaspoon of sugar. Sugar is an underused seasoning by the American home cook. I really learned to use it in Thai cooking, thank you Nancie McDermott for writing Quick and Easy Thai. Thai food is often sweetened with palm sugar, but brown sugar substitutes well. When you use fish sauce you almost always add sugar to balance. When you eat Thai and everything tastes crazy good while be balanced, it’s because Thai food has mastered sour, spice, sweet, savory and salt.
Sugar is in all our prepackaged meals for a reason, it makes things taste better, though food companies use crazy amounts and now everyone is diabetic. Why not use a little in your homemade things for taste with more restraint than big food business demonstrates.
Almost any of your favorite recipes you’ll find a balance of the 5Ss. Salsa: Tomato (sweet and acid), salt, lime juice (sour), chili peppers (spice), garlic and onion (savory). A BLT: tomato (sweet and sour), bacon (salt and spice and savory all in one). This will blow your mind when you start to look at ingredients on your condiments…
Remember, when you use these 5 ingredients with almost any fat it can be a marinade.
Use them with extra virgin olive oil and make it a vinaigrette. When you have stock of the fab 5 in variety you never need to buy dressing or marinade again. Even many of your condiments can be homemade.
When your vinaigrette needs an emulsifier, grab a teaspoon of mayonnaise or mustard.
I don’t know if this will be as enlightening to you as it was to me, maybe most people know this or at least know it in their gut (nice pun!), but it has made me a better cook for sure.