Oops! You’ve tasted your food and it’s too sweet! That’s a mishap that can happen to anyone. So, is there something you can do about it? Yes, there is hope. You can’t remove the excess sweetener, but you can balance it out with other flavors. Try whichever option below that will work best with your overly sweetened dish.
Below is a link to a video where I discuss this topic. My notes detailing this follow the video.
I hope this helps!
Add more liquid. Diluting the sweetener in the dish might be an option if it’s a water- or milk-based soup or sauce. Try adding more of the main liquid and see if that cuts the sweetness enough. Of course, by adding more liquid, you also may need to add more of the other ingredients that flavor the dish, EXCEPT for the sweetener (and possibly salt…see below).
Another example, if it’s a tomato sauce that has too much sweetener, add more tomatoes (and possibly more of the herbs to bring the flavor to where it should be). If your chili is too sweet, add more beans or ground beef, and possibly more tomatoes and spices.
Add some acid. Adding a little acid, such as citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange), vinegar (white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar are good options), or even red wine may also counteract the sweetness. Avoid balsamic vinegar since it can be a bit sweet. For instance, if you’ve over-sweetened a sweet potato dish, sprinkle a little lemon or even orange juice on it to counter the sweetness. That may add more depth of flavor and a slight twist that enhances the entire dish. It’s worth a try! Here’s a tip…take a SMALL amount of the dish and add a very small amount of the acid, then taste it. If it works, add it to the entire dish.
Add something milk-based. Adding a little milk, cream, sour cream, cheese, whipped cream, or unsweetened yogurt to an overly sweet dish can help to balance out the flavors. Coconut milk or your favorite plant-based milk may also work.
Avoid adding more salt. Salt tends to bring out the sweetness in a dish, so adding more salt may not be the best option in this case. After adjusting the recipe, even if you need to add more of your other ingredients, hesitate and taste before adding more salt.
Make it spicy. Sweet and spicy tend to balance each other out very well. If adding some heat or strong spice would work well in your dish, go for it and give it a new flavor dimension! A little hot sauce, chiles, or crushed red pepper may do the trick. Just don’t add so much that it transforms your dish into something extra-hot or you may be reaching for something to counteract the heat!
If it’s a dessert that’s too sweet, adding a little cinnamon or cloves, if appropriate, will cut the sweetness a bit.
Add some herbs. Some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, herbs de Provence, tarragon, and basil, are known to balance sweetness in foods. Add only a small amount at a time and taste as you go.
Add some fat. Adding a bit more fat to the dish, like olive oil, butter, or avocado, can help to balance out extra sweetness.
Add a little bitterness. Yes, bitterness. Even though bitter is a flavor that many people avoid, just think of dark chocolate and how sugar balances out the bitterness in the chocolate. Adding a SMALL amount of unsweetened cocoa powder to your dish may be an option. Just be sure it’s a small amount, so you don’t make your main dish taste like a weird chocolate dessert. Another option here would be to add a bitter vegetable, if applicable. Adding some kale, arugula, or radicchio may do the trick.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.