Building Blocks of Flavor: Salt

Salt, when mindfully used, will simply make your food taste more like itself. Used properly food won’t taste salty, but the flavor will be amplified. Flavor isn’t the only use of salt. Finishing salts like Fleur de Sel are used to add a textural component to a dish and there’s the fact that your body actually needs it to live. We crave salt.

Lots of people tend to be binary about salt. They know the flavor of no salt and the actual taste of salt because something is then perceived as “salty”. The key is to start learning to use it as a flavor enhancer to put a spotlight on flavor along with other methods like evaporation and umami additives. Enough to season food, but not enough to perceive something as “salty”.

If there is one constant about salt it’s this: avoid iodized table salt. Find all your boxes of it and throw them in the trash. Iodine imparts a slight metallic taste and some table salts have anti-caking additives. Salt should be pure. Iodized salt is a throwback to the when getting iodine into your body was an actual health issue. Those days don’t exist anymore and why it endures is a complete mystery. Replace your boxes of table salt with kosher salt.

By now, you already know the well-worn facts about taste buds. The tongue can taste five distinct components: sugar, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Salt, used correctly, can unlock and enhance flavors that you wouldn’t get without it.

Salt also manages to reduce bitterness. We don’t generally recommend salting coffee, simply because good coffee should taste great on it’s own, but next time you find yourself with a bitter cup of coffee, you can salvage it with a pinch of salt.

The key to great use of salt is constantly tasting your food while you are cooking it, which you should be doing anyway. Start with a little and then taste. You will find that as you gradually add a little more each time that the flavor will become enhanced.