When we’re craving something sweet, we expect as much sweetness as possible, right? So ever wonder why your favorite brownie recipe calls for a pinch of salt? It sounds counterproductive, but while some chefs will claim salt helps balance out the sweetness for a more pleasant taste, others say it actually makes sugar sweeter. So we’ve decided to get to the bottom of exactly why salt makes chocolate taste even better. Here’s what we know:
The History of Salt
Let’s go back a bit to ancient times where salt was actually really difficult to get your hands on. As a result, it was pretty expensive, so it became a rare and valuable form of currency for some cultures. In fact, the word “salary” actually comes from the Latin word “salarium,” which precisely means “salt money.” (It’s all coming together.)
Now, if you remember our previous summary on the history of chocolate, you should be noticing some similarities in the value of both salt and chocolate. Comparably, the Aztecs thought so highly of cocoa beans that they not only consumed chocolate drinks during religious ceremonies, but also used it as straight cash in trade transactions.
Fast forward centuries later, and while both salt and chocolate may not be quite as helpful at the mall as they once were, they’re more important than ever in our baking! So again, why do they make the perfect pair?
Salt Helps Us to Taste More Sweetness
Our tongues are full of cells that help us detect flavor. Each of these 50-100 cells respond differently to the five flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. According to a study in an important journal called The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers recently found that there are a set of additional sugar receptors (SGLT1) on the sweet cells of the tongue. These receptors can actually only transport sugar into cells when sodium is present. So not only does salt trigger our tongue’s “salt sensitivity,” but essentially, a whole second round of reactions with our “sweet sensitive” taste buds too!
Salt Contrasts Sweetness
We realize we did just finish explaining how a little bit of salt enhances sweetness, but reversely, a lot of it can help contrast it as well. Again, why would we ever want this? Well, remember that cocoa on its own actually isn’t sweet; it’s bitter. So salt plays a helpful role in balancing out added sugars and other sweet supplements like caramel, milk, fruit and more. These inclusions can often take sweetness to an almost overwhelming level, so salt helps stabilize these flavor profiles and make our favorite chocolate creations equally as perfect from one bite to the next.
Salt Adds Texture & Flavor
Salt can play both a supporting and leading role in our chocolate preferences. Crunchiness often makes chocolate more desirable- just look at why we add nuts, wafers and shells to solid chocolate treats. With a more coarse and grainy salt, its purpose may be to liven up a flat chocolate with a new texture and taste. In this scenario, it’s just as important as the other ingredients in the recipe. While in other cases, salt is simply used to enhance the flavor with a little “pop.” These recipes usually call for finer salts whose grains are undetectable. But in both cases, the flavor benefits are simply immeasurable.
Our Bodies Naturally Crave Both Salt & Sugar
As the author of TASTE: Surprising Stories and Science About Why Food Tastes Good tells us, our bodies have evolved to gravitate toward sweeter foods since they’re traditionally the most energy-rich, or high in calories. But at the same time, since sodium is an essential mineral needed for body function, we’re also conditioned to crave salty foods. When we combine the two, we’re taking care of two biological needs in one delicious bite. So this explains why it’s so hard not to crush an entire bag of kettle corn or chocolatey trail mix in one sitting.
There you have it! While we’ve known the true value of both salt and chocolate for centuries, we’re so grateful for whoever more recently discovered the power of these two polar opposites when they’re together! For all of your favorite chocolatey treats both enhanced and/or balanced by the perfect amount of salt, browse our entire selection of premium chocolates and candies!