Good Question: What Makes Food Tangy?

Here is a rather fun question from reader Kelly:

What ingredients, spices, seasonings, etc. make food tangy? I was craving something tangy the other night, and I realized I was having a hard time pinpointing exactly what would fulfill that desire.

What an interesting question, Kelly. We usually associate "tangy" with "sour" -- but they aren't completely the same. We looked up "tangy" in various definitions, and it seems that "tangy" also implies sweet. One definition associated with coffee flavors and characteristics says that tangy is "An intensely piercing sweet and sour impression along the sides of the tongue."

We associate a tangy taste with citrus and Caribbean food, with some light tomato sauces and Mediterranean dishes, and most of all with Vietnamese and Thai cuisines. To get that taste, we think of ingredients in combinations like lime juice with soy sauce, sugar and fish sauce. Also, tomatoes with vinegar and sugar, and some dairy foods like yogurt and cream cheese.

OK, readers, what do you say? What makes food tangy?

Related: Cooking By Flavor: Asian Flavor Combinations

(Images: Kiwi shot by Flickr member Roger Smith and quark shot by Flickr member Roo Reynolds, both licensed for use under Creative Commons)