A “Cheat Sheet” to Flavor Profiles

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What makes something taste Italian or Cajun or Moroccan? Whether crafting vinaigrette, seasoning chicken, or developing a soup, understanding the flavors of ingredients that help to define various cuisines can be deeply useful.

Every cuisine has its regional variations; Basque cuisine is vastly different from the classic dishes from Provence, but they’re both French. So consider this a shorthand reference to a few culinary stereotypes. Don’t overdo it. Try incorporating two to four ingredients from a cuisine group to tilt a flavor profile in that general direction.


dark roux, onions, celery, green pepper, tomatoes, parsley, cayenne, Cajun spice blends, blackening seasonings, lemon, scallions, andouille sausage, crab, shrimp


butter, shallots, onions, celery, carrots, thyme, tarragon, herbs de Provence, bay leaves, chives, chervil, capers, red and white wine, truffle, soft cheeses, Dijon mustard, mushrooms, cream


tandoori spices, garam masala, curry, yogurt, coconut milk, basmati rice, tamarind, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cilantro, fennel, garlic, saffron, fenugreek, dried chilies


garlic, onions, celery, basil, pesto, prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, mozzarella cheese, pine nuts, tomatoes, artichokes, olives, olive oil, oregano, lemon, fennel, flat-leaf parsley, red pepper flakes, rosemary, white beans, balsamic vinegar


miso, sesame seed oil, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, sake, soy sauce, wasabi, ginger


oregano, lemon, olives, tuna, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, olive oil, lamb, garlic, feta cheese, tomatoes, red onions, fish, shellfish


cumin, chili powder, hot sauce, green peppers, oregano, lime, garlic, onions, celery, cilantro, tomatoes, scallions, black beans, Cheddar cheese, avocado

North African/Moroccan

mint, lemon, harissa, saffron, turmeric, parsley, cilantro, honey, olives, almonds, dates, raisins, chickpeas, eggplant, green bell peppers, carrots, lentils, onion, ground ginger, paprika, cumin, cayenne, figs

Central/South Asian

ginger, garlic, scallions, shallots, lemongrass, Thai basil, cilantro, fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, coconut milk, sesame seeds, sesame oil, rice or sweet wine vinegar, cilantro, lime, oyster sauce, galangal, hot chili peppers

Where this information came from
This is excerpted from The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn with permission from Viking/Penguin.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. Lena Nozizwe says:

    What about the rest of Africa, please. Good food comes from there too.

  2. Hey there! This post was great. Reading through
    this post reminds me of my previous room mate who went to culinary school. He always
    kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  3. WorldsoldestFreshman says:

    Just a slight suggestion: the Mexican flavor profile is based on the white cheeses like Monterrey Jack and queso fresco which tend to taste a little less acidic than cheddar and can be somewhat saltier. It also has less of the “cheddar” flavor which can be jarring in the context of Mexican foods.

  4. Great posts. Loved it.

  5. McKenzie Warren says:



  1. […] But you want a fancy designer gourmet vinaigrette? Raspberry? Blueberry? Then add the berry to the bowl and whisk. Asian vinaigrette? Use some things from the Asian flavor profile: ginger, garlic, miso, sesame oil, peanut oil, soy sauce. An Italian Vinaigrette? Basil, garlic, tomato, white beans. Get some ideas from our “Cheat Sheet” to Profiles […]

  2. […] A “cheat sheet” to flavor profiles  […]

  3. […] Edited to add: Turns out there are a few cheatsheets floating around on flavor profiles. Have a look. […]

  4. […] For foodies like myself who love to try a myriad of global and regional cuisines, check out PlanToEat.com’s article on “Learning to Cook by Flavor Pofile, not Recipe.” The article gives an easy to understand guide on which ingredients typically define a type of cuisine. So if you want to eat something Mexican, this article will tell you which spices are typically used in Mexican cooking, or which ingredients are usually the base flavors in Thai cuisine. Another read should be Kathleen Flinn’s “A ‘Cheat Sheet’ to Flavor Profiles.” […]

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