So what is a palate cleanser exactly? It’s not a complicated concept but before we get to that I’ll just explain how the tongue works which will help in understanding why a palate cleanser is useful.
The taste buds on the tongue have receptors which are stimulated by what we consume. The receptors send signals to the brain to interpret the flavour and voilà! we can distinguish between sweet and sour, salty, bitter and umami.
The food we eat have a variety of flavours and some of those foods are stronger in flavour than others and can assault the taste buds, think raw onion. The flavour lingers on your tongue even after the food has been ingested. Because of this, other more delicate flavours that follow are lost.
And so… a palate cleanser is either neutral in flavour or has a neutralising effect. It’s very nature removes residue from the tongue and cleans it so that the taste buds can once again (unhindered) determine the flavour of the next food or drink. The palate cleanser is a bite or a spoonful or two of something that captures this purpose. The French (oh how I love the French) also use palate cleansers as digestives and to stimulate the appetite.
The universal palate cleanser is water. A small mouthful and a swish around the mouth will leave it feeling clean and refreshed. But it’s a little boring when your other option is to bring class to your dinner party by adding another tiny course which will both wow your guests and serve this important purpose.
The most common palate cleansers are:
- Sorbet – often lemon, lime, mango or melon and is perfect for serving after rich, fatty foods
- Granita – often fruit or alcohol based or containing mint
- Alcohol shots – calvados or gin (I’ve had a shot of neat gin with pomegranate rubies and it does a fine job) as well as Champagne
- Dry unsalted crackers or bread – most common in wine tastings
- Milk or dairy based cleansers are best for spicy food (this is one of the few times when water is not a good option). Beer and other acidic drinks also work well with spice as does starch
- Pickles – works well most of the time but I’d take care to makes sure it makes sense with the rest of the meal
- Pickled ginger – most often used as a palate cleanser with sushi but also good with other rich foods and good after lots of chocolate
- Undiluted lemon juice neutralises garlic.
- Water with a twist of citrus
- Lightly brewed green, black, or mint tea (common in the East)
- Celery sticks or fresh apple
- A small fresh salad (common in Italy but it’s a no-no to include a creamy dressing)
I’m quite partial to granitas as palate cleansers because they are exceptionally easy to make and require very little attention. These are some of the granitas I am keen to try: cucumber and Riesling, mango and lime, lemon and thyme, fennel, grapefruit and Campari, Champagne, Sherry and cardamom, cherry and elderflower, dragon fruit, chai tea, granadilla.
What combinations are you thinking of?