Sweet and Savory


Humans have over 10,000 taste buds which are made up of hundreds of receptor cells that control our sense of taste. Each type of receptor responds to one of these 5 basic tastes:

  • Sweet: activated by presence of sugars (ie: fruit, sugary drinks, desserts)
  • Salty: activated by presence sodium chloride (ie: table salt)
  • Sour: activated by presence of acids (ie: lemons, warhead candy)
  • Bitter: having an astringent or disagreeable taste (ie: coffee, unsweetened cocoa)
  • Savory or Umami: having a meaty or savory taste, activated by presence of amino acids- namely glutamate (ie: cheese, soy sauce, MSG)

Sweet and savory (the best of both worlds!) is a popular food trend that many of us love and crave but is also something that has been around for ages. Iacopo Falai, chef/restaurant owner was quoted saying, "the contrast between sweet and savory is one of the most basic in food...It is a way of expression, a way of playing with things in the kitchen. The idea of adding salt to chocolate, for example, is 5,000 years old. It is our heritage."

I can remember as a child watching my grandmother eat watermelon slices with a sprinkle of salt on each bite and wondering, "what are you doing?" The answer is now much clearer to me and research suggests that sweet and savory taste sensations actually share common receptor pathways. This could explain why sweet and savory foods go so well together. If you stop and think about it, these combinations are actually very common: fruit and cheese, chicken and waffles, ham and pineapple pizza, carrot cake, zucchini bread, chocolate covered nuts or pretzels, and who could forget the newly popularized bacon anything (bacon milkshakes, maple bacon cupcakes, candied bacon, etc).

Think Outside the Box

As Iacopo Falai suggests, get in the kitchen and play with things, have fun, and experiment with sweet and savory dishes. Go outside the box and think of foods traditionally thought of as solely sweet or solely savory and mix it up! Strawberries, for example, are traditionally thought of as a sweet food and used mainly in desserts, as you’ll see in the recipe below for No Bake Strawberry Stack. However, they can also be beautifully incorporated into savory recipes to create an entirely new flavor profile, like in the recipe below for Strawberry Quinoa Salad.

We are right in the middle of strawberry season in NC so now is the perfect time to put your berries to good use! Strawberries are on the Environmental Working Group’s "Dirty Dozen Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce" so try to choose organic, when possible. You can purchase organic strawberries at local farmers markets or grocery stores or you can pick your own!

According to Farm Fresh NC, the following Triangle area farms have organic “u-pick” strawberry fields:

  • Hilltop Farms: 6612 Kennebec Road, Willow Springs (Wake County), 919-552-5541
  • Whitted Bowers Farm: 8707 Art Road, Cedar Grove (Orange County), 919-732-5132
  • Eco Farm: 2501 Butler Road, Chapel Hill (Orange County), 919-933-4663
  • Vollmer Farm: 677 Highway 98 East, Bunn (Franklin County), 919-496-3076

Here are two examples of how strawberries can be used in sweet or savory dishes. For printer-friendly recipes, click here.

Strawberry Quinoa Salad
Recipe Adapted From: domesticfits.com
Serves 4


1 cup quinoa, cooked
1 cup strawberries, chopped
3 ounces reduced-fat feta cheese crumbles
½ cup chopped spinach
1 Tbsp dried or fresh basil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1/8 tsp salt


  1. In a bowl, combine strawberries, feta cheese, spinach, and basil.
  2. Once quinoa has cooled completely, add to bowl and toss to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, honey, and salt. Drizzle over quinoa and strawberry mixture and toss until well combined.
  4. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator and serve cold.


No Bake Strawberry Stack
Serves 1


½ cup sliced fresh strawberries
1 sheet low-fat graham cracker
½ cup fat-free Cool Whip topping


  1. Break graham cracker sheet into eight smaller pieces.
  2. Place Cool Whip topping in a zip-top plastic bag and cut a small piece out of the bottom corner.This creates a piping bag (you can also use a piping bag if you have those at home).
  3. Layer 1/3 of the graham cracker pieces into the bottom of a small glass or bowl.
  4. Top with 1/3 of the Cool Whip topping.
  5. Then place 1/3 of the strawberries on top of the Cool Whip layer.
  6. Repeat 3 times, finishing with strawberries on top.
  7. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours, or overnight.


About Author

Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN


Ashley is a Nutritionist at SAS Institute in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Biofeedback Instructor, and has a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys spending as much time as possible at the beach, running, cooking and crafting. Follow @abaileyRD on Twitter.

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