Over the last two days I’ve by chance been offered kale salad at various venues (in the US), including at the Trader Joe’s sample table at the back of one of their stores. All the salads had one thing in common besides kale—some form of sugar in the dressing. The one offered to me at someone’s home also had chopped dates and apples in the salad itself. Sure, some dressings taste better with a pinch of sugar but most taste just as good without it and if a salad’s ingredients are of good quality, a simple blend of olive oil and fresh lemon will do, with or without a dash of savory vinegar. Other than a naturally sweet vegetable, I don’t want sugar in my salad and especially with my kale, which I am eating for its nutrients and leafy goodness and not in lieu of dessert. That goes for all the other sweet, gourmet items that get thrown into trendy salads. My dear salad-makers, when it comes to raisins, dried cranberries, orange slices or caramelized pecans, just say no.
In addition to the hidden sugars we don’t really taste, so many savory foods proudly feature sugar as a major ingredient these days. But I personally don’t want a mound of fig jam atop of my goat cheese, honey dripping from my baked brie or maple syrup encrusting my bacon. In general, sugar tends to smother rather than enhance the flavor of ingredients and often substitutes for quality and/or fresh herbs. Just prior to the kale incidents, I had some sashimi at a ‘poke bowl’ style buffet, and its light marinade, which appeared to be soy sauce, was so sweet it robbed the fish of all its subtle flavor and texture. Same for a dinner I recently attended where every savory dish, from salad to chicken, was prepared with some kind of glaze—balsamic or other—that made it too sickly to enjoy. Not long before that, I had Thai food in which the cook, having run out of regular coconut milk, used sweetened coconut milk, making the curry almost inedible (I scraped it all off—another reason to ask for sauce on the side).
Not only don’t I want sugar for dessert, I’d prefer not to eat if for dinner either. If you’ve been leading a low-carb lifestyle, my guess is you too have noticed sugar’s frequent incursions into savory foods and sometimes to the point where food becomes less tasty. Just as chefs in the ‘sweets’ space struggle to cook without sugar because of texture, mouth feel, crystallizing crunch, caramelization and bulk, as well as flavor (some items like marshmallows are defined by sugar), cooking savory dishes without sugar takes some de-conditioning and adjustment. It means finding other thickeners for sauces and chutneys and other ways to jazz up a salad. And for those determined to make their kale salads sweet, perhaps they can let a carrot or grilled onion do the heavy lifting.