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What Is a Palate Cleanser?
A palate cleanser is any food or beverage served between courses to prepare diners for the next course. Palate cleansers often have neutral flavors that serve as a baseline for more complex flavors, and they’re designed to improve digestion, stimulate the appetite, or remove any lingering aftertastes. Smaller than a full dish, palate cleansers often consist of just a few mouthfuls. The right palate cleanser can help reset your sensory perception, preparing your taste buds to notice subtle flavor differences.
What Is the Purpose of a Palate Cleanser?
The exact function of a palate cleanser depends on the situation. At a wine tasting or similar situation where differentiating between flavors is important, you might have crackers or dark chocolate between each taste of wine or bite of food to make sure the flavors aren't blending together on your taste buds. Sushi restaurants serve pickled ginger as a palate cleanser in between bites of raw fish, since the difference in flavor can be very subtle. Some palate cleansers provide a momentary respite from intensely flavored or spicy foods, as in the case of yogurt raita.
4 Classic Palate Cleanser Examples
Many foods can be palate-cleansing, but a few stand out as classics.
- Sorbet: Fruit sorbet is a traditional palate cleanser. Sorbets are made without sweetener in refreshing flavors like cucumber, lemon, lime, or grapefruit. Sorbet is light and refreshing, an ideal followup to fatty foods. It's a classic palate cleanser in France and in Italy, where the sorbet course is known as an intermezzo.
- Crackers: If you want something truly neutral, stick to crackers. Unsalted crackers are best for salty meals. Water crackers, white bread, and tortilla chips can all serve as palate cleansers.
- Fruit and vegetables: In India, sliced raw fruit and vegetables, sometimes served with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, are common accompaniments to a rich, flavorful meal.
- Herbs: You can add a sprig of parsley or a peppermint leaf to a glass of drinking water, use them as a garnish on lemon sorbet, or serve them alone. Herbs have a strong, refreshing flavor that can jolt the taste buds in preparation for new flavors.
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