Drop Acid: All You Need To Know About Kitchen Souring Agents

In school we all learned about the different taste areas and receptors on the human tongue. Sweet, salty, bitter, savour and sour (and later umami too!) And while it’s easy to get on board with a sugary dessert or salty potato chip, sour foods tend not to be so pleasant to eat on their own.

But acidic elements do play a huge role in the overall flavour of a dish, by adding bright, fresh notes and balancing out other ingredients. India has a rich history of its own with acids with ingredients like tamarind and kokum in the South or in the form of tart pickles. In fact, Indian food has a whole host of hidden acidity that makes dishes taste the way they do. 

Part of becoming a better chef is learning to understand that balance includes all aspects of the flavour spectrum. Sometimes when your dish doesn’t taste right it’s not simply a question of adding more salt, it’s something as nuanced as a hit of acidity to help find the correct flavour.

Here are just a few of the magic tricks acidity can achieve. 

  • Reduces bitterness in a dish.
  • Helps reduce the effects of too much spice.
  • Cuts through the richness of a fatty or greasy dish.
  • Makes an excessively sweet dish more balanced.

What constitutes an Acid?

There are many natural sources of acid that can be found in the kitchen, and different forms of acid. An acidic is anything with a pH balance of 0-7, and the lower the pH the more sour the taste. Here are a few common kitchen acids and how they can help.


One of the most versatile acids in the kitchen, the main acidic component of yoghurt is lactic acid. This can help add a sour tang to your dish as well as a slight creaminess. The issue is that the proteins in yoghurt tend to break down when heated and then form clumps which isn’t appealing, so yoghurt should only be used when searing food, or at the very end of a slow cook.


Tamarind or Imli is a standard part of any chaat order. This flavour-packed acid is comprised of mainly Tartaric Acid and come in many different levels of sourness. It’s a beloved part of any Indian kitchen as it can survive long cook times – essential for any good curry – and is also easy to store for long periods.


Because this fruit (yes, it’s a technicality, but also the truth) is such a fundamental part of almost any Indian dish, it’s easy to overlook the massive effects it has on flavour. With high levels of Oxalic Acid, it’s an easily accessible souring agent that doesn’t add too much acidity. The pH levels vary between tomato types, seasons and degree of ripeness.


The citrus family is one of the most recognised kitchen acids. Lemons, limes, oranges and to some extent even pineapple and mango are full of Citric Acid. The individual flavours of the main citrus fruits come mainly from the essential oils in the peels, but the juice is the best way to add pure acidity without the flavour. Although they don’t cook well so should be added towards the end. 


Made through the oxidation of sour wine, vinegar is a less common souring agent in India, perhaps due to the alcohol component. Acetic Acid is created when acetobacter aceti get to work on alcohol made through fermentation and then converts it further to what we know as vinegar.