The Surprising Way To Make Veggies Taste 10x Better, From An Award-Winning Chef
You probably already know that even the same type of vegetable can deliver a slightly skewed flavor profile. Example: Ever had a crunchy, flavorful, almost juicy carrot, as opposed to a bland one that feels chalky and bone-dry? It's like you can taste the flavonoids and nutrients in the former, while the latter simply, well, lacks luster.
So how do you grace your taste buds with the aforementioned delicious carrot? According to Dan Barber, award-winning chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Farm, it's all about the soil: "You can't get truly jaw-dropping, delicious flavor, unless it's from good, biologically active soil," he explains on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
Below, he unpacks the link between nutrition and flavor and offers his pro tips to curate the tastiest veggies, every time.
Why flavor starts at the seed.
Remember when we told you how soil affects the quality of your veggies? Plant a seed in biodiverse, rich soil, and it'll grow into a more nutritious vegetable—as opposed to seeds planted in over-tilled soil stripped of its microbial life.
Barber wholeheartedly agrees with that sentiment, although he takes it a step further: The more biodiverse the soil, and the more nutrient-dense the vegetable, the better it'll taste. "The flavonoids are flavors," he says. So when you curate nutrition, you're also inherently curating taste.
To circle back to our carrot example: "A delicious carrot is defined by a seed that's full of nutrient density and flavonoids," Barber explains. These nutrients, he adds, also tend to develop in response to the surrounding environment.
For instance, "Pick a carrot that lived through near-freezing temperatures in the last four or five days—that temperature converted the starches in the carrot to sugars and raised the brix," says Barber. "And when you raise the brix, you get all sorts of nutrition that wasn't there before, and you also get sweetness because brix is sugar."
Essentially, crops grown in the right soil and in the right conditions create stellar tasting veggies. "When you come into my restaurant for dinner and you have a carrot steak, a carrot salad, or whatever the carrot iteration is, I look like a much more genius chef because those starches have been converted to sugars," he poses. It's like taking advantage of the soil conditions to create the best eating experience. Neat, no?
How to choose tastier vegetables.
This all sounds lovely in theory, but you may be asking yourself: How can I cook veggies that are grown in this rich, diverse soil? Well, according to Barber, shopping from local farms is your best bet. That includes heading to the farmers market if you can, which we realize might not be realistic for every grocery trip; Barber suggests finding local options at your supermarket and supporting restaurants that source from small farms.
"There's a whole restaurant community that is supporting the local food chain, and there are products in supermarkets now that are supporting local farmers," he says. "There are more ways to support local agriculture now than there ever have been in the history of the United States."
Do what you can, and if you simply can't find local, organic options? That's OK—filling your plate with any fruits and veggies you can find is still a nutritious choice. (And there are many ways to enhance the flavor of all your plant-based favorites.)
According to Barber, soil matters: Not only does rich soil infuse plants with healthy nutrients, but it also helps make the veggies more flavorful in the long run. It's certainly something to chew on.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.