Everyone loves food, not just because it’s vital for our survival, but because it’s a way we socialise with friends and the way we deal with breakups – who doesn’t love a good binge eat. One particular thing we love to binge is salty foods. We love it because our bodies need sodium chloride (salt), simply put.
We use salt in all different manners from regulating fluids to creating nerve pulses. Unlike other minerals, however, we can’t store it so we need to have a daily intake to maintain our salt levels.
Individual cells on our tongue respond to several tastes each with their own sensitivity. Salt can intensify likeable tastes while diminishing unpleasant tastes by allowing these taste receptors to sense flavours they couldn’t detect before. In low concentrations, salt can enhance sweetness, suppressing bitter flavours. While in high concentrations, salt suppresses sweetness yet enhances sumani (which detects glutamic acid, a part of a protein), so is good for savoury dishes.
The ‘myth’ of salt improving the taste of food is actually true. When salt is added to a recipe, the dish doesn’t become salty; rather it alters protein interactions with other components such as fat and water, changing the food’s texture. Cheeses can become more dense, breads more firm and meats more juicy.
Adding salt throughout the cooking process in slow-cooked meats allows the salt to disperse within the food molecules. Similarly, soaking meats in salty water, aka brine, before cooking allows it to soak through the meat to loosen the proteins and give the meat more moisture and flavour. Who knew this would turn into an article about cooking tips?
Enhancing the flavour of foods through salt can also be achieved after the meal has been made. There are many different types of salt to serve different purposes like curing salt for curing meats (obviously), or kosher salt used for making crusts on meat due to its coarser grains. Popcorn or table salt is very fine allowing it to adhere easily to popcorn kernels or French fries.
Too much salt can have severe effects, however. A high salt diet can cause high blood pressure without you knowing, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The NHS recommends having no more than 2.4g of sodium intake (6g of salt) each day for adults, 0.4g more than that of WHO’s (Worldwide Health Organisation) recommendation. This is also following the UK’s national project to reduce salt consumption due to, on average, Brits having 8g of salt each day. This may be due to the amount of high salt foods that are common in our diet compared to other western countries e.g. pasties and, of course, a cup of tea (unless you like a bland cuppa, like me).
So to summarise, salt makes foods taste better because it releases other flavours in the food but too much can cause serious problems, so try to cut down those late-night salty craves!