Sweetness naturally balances saltiness, which is good in a hearty, filling stew. But when your stew is too sweet, it can overtake the entire palate and leave you tasting nothing but sugar. Before tossing out your homemade concoction, try some simple additions and fixes to tone down or balance out that excess sweetness.
Wait on fixing your stew until it’s cooked and almost ready to serve. This is because as your stew cooks, the flavors meld together and condense. You cannot fix a stew properly until it’s done cooking and the flavor profile is close to where it will be when you serve it.
Add a small amount of an acid to the stew and let it cook for a few minutes. Vinegars, either white distilled, red wine or apple cider can be used to help tone down some of the sweetness. Add other acids, like wine, tomato juice or citrus fruit juice, with the understanding that they might alter the flavor of your finished dish. Taste the stew and if it’s still too sweet, add more.
Add a dash of salt to the stew. If you have naturally salty ingredients already in the stew, such as soy sauce, add in more of that to balance out the sweetness. Garnishing your stew with crisped bacon can also help add more saltiness if you feel it’s too sweet once it’s already served. Salt quickly condenses in a simmering stew. Add a small amount of stew, allow it to cook down, and taste it before adding more.
Toss in a few aromatic herbs and seasonings to cover up the sweetness. Aromatics don’t balance out sweetness, but they can help cover up the excess sweetness on your palate. Herbs like parsley, garlic or onion powder are strong enough to cover up too much sugar. Choose herbs that will complement your stew's flavor. Start by adding a few teaspoons and allow it to cook longer before tasting and adding in more.
Add a fat to coat the tongue and tone down the sweetness. Cream or butter can add a luxurious finish to your stew as well as a layer of fat. Once cream or butter is added, don’t let the stew come beyond a simmer, otherwise your cream might separate and leave you with an unappealing stew.
Try adding additional liquid or ingredients already in the stew. For example, a stew made with beef stock can have more beef stock added to water down the sweetness. If your stew has a lot of vegetables, add in more to help soak up some of the sweetness and offset it. You might need to adjust other herbs and flavorings as well.