What is the point of adding sugar to savory food? Querencia recently made a recipe that called for cabbage to be stir-fried with a teaspoon each of soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. "I wondered as I did it if putting sugar with cabbage would sound odd to people but it ends up tasting good, much better than plain cabbage," Querencia says.
And vinouspleasure once tried to eliminate the sugar from a savory Thai curry, and learned an important lesson. "When I was taught how to make curry by a Thai chef, I tried to cut down on sugar. ... It didn't taste very good and the chef explained that Thai curry balances sour, spicy and sweet. Finding this perfect balance makes the flavors 'pop,'" vinouspleasure says. "I don't believe you'd enjoy Thai curry with no sugar but I do agree that some restaurants add too much sugar resulting in lack of balance."
Chemicalkinetics adds that every cuisine has its own balance of sweet and savory. "I have never heard of a cuisine [whose] motto is 'We like to use excessive salt and inadequate sugar,'" says Chemicalkinetics. "That being said, every cuisine has its standard of balance, and it is important to hit that point. For example, Japanese desserts are much milder (less sweet) and lighter (less fat) than American desserts. They both claim they have the right balance of flavor. Yet, it is important not to [rely] on American standards while making Japanese food, and vice versa."
Discuss: The use of sugar in Asian dishes