Have you ever tried salted chocolate? You definitely should, because the combination is insanely delicious. A pinch of salt contrasts the sweetness of chocolate and it also adds texture and intensifies flavour.
Salt in general intensifies any kind of flavour if we use the right amount. We all have experienced that savoury dishes without enough salt tend to be bland and tasteless. Taste as a sense is more complex than we might think and as scientists imagined it decades ago. We are able to distinguish five elemental tastes; salt, sweet, sour bitter and umami (which is a taste of glutamic acid). It is well known that each of the mentioned tastes have their “spot” on our tongue. According to the newest research, the taste receptor cells on our tongue do not work entirely separately, they respond to several tastes with different levels of sensitivity. This means that tastes interact with each other; they suppress or enhance each other. In this “game”, salt is a tricky player as its impact depends on concentration. Low concentration of salt increases sweet and sour but reduces bitterness, whereas high concentration enhances umami and suppresses sweet. All in all, salt is much needed in savoury foods which are rich in umami and also needed at low concentration in desserts to intensify sweet taste.
Scientists are continuously working on finding out more about the process of tasting sugar, which is a very complex mechanism. A new study 1 gives scientific answer why salt boosts sweet taste. In our body there are many types of sugar sensors which have different roles to help digestion. A certain sugar sensor that previously thought to exist only in our gut has been identified also on our tongue. This sugar sensor “is a transporter that moves glucose into the sweet taste cell when sodium (salt) is present, thus it is triggering the cell to register sweetness”. This means that the presence of salt in our mouth both triggers salt and sweet taste receptor cells.
To sum up the previous (too scientific) explanation and give a concrete example, let’s see why salt and chocolate work together very well. Firstly salt intensifies the sweet taste of chocolate and at the same time reduces its natural bitterness. Secondly, salt adds flavour. Yes, if we try a salt-seasoned chocolate we do taste salt indeed which gives an extraordinary kick to the chocolate. On the contrary, when we rightly follow the recipe and add just a pinch of salt to our cookie dough, we won’t feel the taste of salt in the end. Thirdly, added salt gives an additional texture to chocolate. When we buy a bar of salted chocolate it is seasoned with coarse sea salt, so the smooth texture of chocolate is mixed with crunchy salt pieces. And fourthly, salt contrasts sweetness. Chocolates especially milk chocolates or chocolates with caramel, vanilla or dried fruits can be overwhelmingly sweet. In case you find your chocolate or brownie too full of sugary flavours, give a pinch of sea salt a try! (Of course you can also use normal table salt, but in general sea salt has a richer taste and it is healthier, since it naturally contains minerals.)
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