The Things I’ve Learned in our Kitchen (2011) #1: Acid Makes a Huge Difference

For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavor of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

One of the absolute major changes this year has been the deliberate addition of acid – especially in places that I would never have imagined to use it.

Acid comes in many forms – vinegar and citrus are the most common in our kitchen.  Ontario has several awesome wine regions near us and the options for local vinegar is plentiful.  We do lack long-aged vinegar (such as Italy’s famed balsamic, many older sherry vinegars and Japan’s Ume Boshi Vinegar) so they tend to play a role in my kitchen as well.

My use of acid in cooking changed on March 1. I know the exact moment because it came in the middle of a speech by Fergus Henderson at Terroir V (the day before I got to meet him in person thanks to our friends at Hooked).  Chef casually remarked that the primary challenge embraced in the kitchen is to ‘balance salt and acids.’  The moment was profound – I thought of how many recipes and cuisines I had experienced in the world and how often their cuisine had added acid – yet almost none of my cooking did.  I used vinegar when told to but when cooking freestyle (the way I typically cook), I didn’t use any acid at all.

Acid is a cornerstone of our cooking now.  A stir fry reaches new levels with a splash of wine vinegar and even stock reaches new levels with a bit of lime juice.  Spaghetti sauce loves balsamic or ume boshi vinegar and a touch of cider vinegar is awesome in pizza dough.  The truth is that, when adding a bit of acid at a time, I’ve never had a fail and almost always had a tangibly better meal – and most wouldn’t detect the vinegar at all.

The Things Ive Learned in our Kitchen (2011) #1: Acid Makes a Huge Difference December

What’s a lesson from your kitchen this year?


  1. I have a giant jar of home made apple cider vinegar with your name on it!
    Making my own vinegar is a little life changing.

  2. I thought ume boshi, or umeboshi, were made with salt cure. That’s how I make mine. The “vinegar” is brine, not acid. So I’m wondering what kind of ume boshi vinegar you are talking about. And I love it best on corn on the cob.

  3. I’ve been discovering that one too. My pasta sauce a few nights ago was improved greatly with a splash of homemade wild fermeted wine gone a bit too far.

    Learned a lot in the kitchen this year – baking (both with white flour, white sugar, butter and eggs, and whole foods gluten free vegan varieites) and fermenting (veggies and alcohol) have been my biggest categories.

  4. You can buy Canadian and still have a lovely balsamic vinegar. A friend in Victoria brings me a bottle of Venturi Schultze Winery’s balsamic vinegar sometimes when she comes to visit and it’s delightful: They also produce verjus, another nice acid, along with some lovely wine- and balsamic-based jellies and jams, biscotti, etc.

  5. I learned to add a bit of acid to a soup at the end from some Mennonite friends, who make a delicious Mennonite “borscht” (which has no beets, just beef bones and veggies and some seasonings). A tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice at the end of cooking makes such a huge difference in flavor, which was a pleasant surprise. I’m curious about the pizza dough, I’m going to try that!

  6. Diana, your Venturi Schultze vinegar gift is from a true friend! starting at $49 for 250 Ml and quickly rising. I live only 5 kilometres from them but cannot afford the vinegar – although I once splurged to get it for my hard -to-buy for brother!

    Thanks for this post! I have taken three goes at reading it – the first stop was when I lept up, grabbed the two vinegar mothers that we had discovered in old Red and White wine vinegar bottles, and started my first batches of Vinegar! TAA DAA. Second stop was when I re-fed the sourdough starter that was ignored last week – We pulled it out of the fridge two days ago and it was a bit slow to re-proof, but this morning it was foamy – I gave it another feeding just now, and will divide it up for my niece to take some home, plus will make some english Muffins tomorrow evening. mmmm Roundy bread!

  7. @diana I absolutely love the balsamic – and wines from Venturi Schultze! I visited them on a trip to BC a few years back and the balsamic was the best discovery on the trip!


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  5. [...] Add a small pit of vinegar (or pickled peppers/ carrots/ beans/ asparagus) to add a bit of a zing (you shouldn’t be able to detect the vinegar but adding it was one of my major lessons in 2011). [...]

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