Salt and coffee is certainly an unusual combination but there’s science behind why the two work well together. Salt counteracts the bitterness in coffee. Adding salt diminishes the bitter flavours with the added benefit of highlighting the rest of the coffee notes without adding a salty taste to your favourite beverage.
WHAT MAKES COFFEE BITTER?
Many people think it’s the caffeine, and the more bitter the coffee the more caffeine it contains. While it’s true that about 15% of the bitterness comes from caffeine, mostly it’s from 2 compounds within the coffee – Chlorogenic Acid Lactones and Phenylindanes. These are two anti-oxidants only found in the roasted coffee bean which shows that the darker and more intense your roasting, the more bitter the beans.
SO HOW DOES SALT COMBAT BITTERNESS?
It all begins with your taste buds. You have thousands of them on your tongue, all able to detect the 5 basic tastes – sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.
Research shows that the biological mechanism of producing sweet, salty, sour and umami flavours are all similar. And salt, while in itself is a taste, also works to amplify the other flavours.
Bitterness, on the other hand, operates differently. Instead of the normal reaction, the taste buds release a calcium ion that send a ‘bitter’ signal to the brain. Salt, for reasons not yet understood, is able to override this reaction on the tastebuds thereby masking the bitter sensation.
HOW TO USE SALT WITH COFFEE?
There are different ways people incorporate salt into their coffee. The Ethiopians serve salted popcorn with coffee.
The northern Scandinavians have a tradition of serving dried reindeer meat along with their cup of joe. (There’s a subtle compatibility between meat and coffee and a secret tip is to add a little coffee to your beef stocks for extra depth and richness)
And some people are adding salt to the coffee grounds before brewing to cut the edge of bitterness – in fact research shows that salt is superior to sugar in cutting bitterness. You only need a trace amount of salt to counteract bitterness in coffee. You can add a pinch (1/4 teaspoon to 6 tablespoons of ground coffee) or even a few grains in your coffee right now.
If you’re feeling a little sceptical about this we get it. ‘Take it with a pinch of salt’ means adding a dose of scepticism, making something easier to swallow. However, you may just discover that taking your coffee with a pinch of salt gives the expression a whole new meaning.