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paulraphael

Salt in coffee?

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Has anyone experimented with this?

I've been adding very small amounts of salt to all kinds of recipes (particularly desserts, like ice creams and anything with chocolate) and finding that it often opens up and adds dimension to the flavors, without asserting any actual saltiness.

Some experiments that Hervé This reports on confirm this effect. Salt both increases the ion density of solutions, speeding the release of aromatic compounds, and influences our perception of flavors through complex physiological effects.

I'm curious to know if anyone has exploited these effects with coffee (beyond the old lore that it removes bitterness from bad coffee ... which may be true, but I'm more interested in good coffee!)

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Salt in coffee is a trick employed by many fishermen I know--the potable water on big fishing boats can taste flat or strange after long storage in tanks. So I always heard that salt was added to mask the taste of the water, rather than to compensate for inferior coffee.

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I've tried it, and it certainly changes the flavor, but I'm not sure that it's a positive change. More like neutral; it's just different.

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Ideas in food wrote about the idea recently.

http://www.ideasinfood.com/ideas_in_food/2...our-coffee.html

My understanding is that effect of salt on taste if more related to perception than to the effects it has on the structure of the food its self - that the activation of salt receptors in the mouth has a excitatory effect on adjacent taste receptors (though maybe inhibitory on bitter receptors?), creating a synergestic effect on flavour when used in small amounts.

I haven't found any limits to the ability of a small amount of salt to bring flavours out - I don't think it's limited to savoury foods. Recently I've been experimenting with chocolate bananna milkshakes - adding salt little by little until the banana flavour jumps out.

I'll have a go with coffee later today.


Edited by gregnz (log)

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My husband and I tried this in the coffee this morning (I read the ideas in food blog yesterday, heh). We found it did not add an appreciable improvement in flavor, maybe added a little weird flavor to it. We won't be doing salt in coffee again.

I'd be interested if someone did a blind taste test with this. I knew the salt had been added and that could have affected my expectations.


Edited by lemniscate (log)

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My step grandmother in law (SGIL?) makes drip coffee by adding salt on top of the ground beans, a half teaspoon for an 8 or 10 cup carafe. I can taste the salt, and I don't care for it. Her rationale has something to do with WWII rationing and chicory.

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I definitely notice a smoothness and reduction in the sharp bitter notes with salt. The difference is more pronounced when I've been drinking coffee with the touch of salt and then drink coffee without it. In other words, I miss it when it's not there more than I notice it when it is. Also, I don't use it across the board. Some coffees I like the way they are and don't want to soften the edges. It does seem to wake up pre-ground coffee a bit as well.

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Notes from this morning's breakfast/tasting.

Single arm, unblinded crossover trial. N=1. (ie. sat adding salt to morning coffee).

Freshly ground, made in a plunger. No milk or sugar.

First I poured a small cup, and continued adding salt and tasting until it was noticeably salty.

Then I poured a whole cup and salted it more slowly until it reached a stage I felt there was an obvious effect, without being overtly salty.

I thought there was a perceptible reduction in bitterness, and caramel and a nutty aftertaste were more obvious, and as a whole it seemed smoother. However, the main result was an increase in barnyard-y off flavours.

I suppose an important point is that adequately salting something is only going to alter the perception of flavours *already present*, so we need to start with good ingredients.

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I do like to cruise the used bookstore every now and then, and cam across a "campfire cookbook" and came across an interesting recipie for coffee.

The book was written in the early '20's and for the life of me I can't remember the name of it. Most, if all coffee back then (N.America)was brewed in "perculators", and this recipie called for a "sprinkle of salt and a crushed eggshell" to placed ontop of the grounds." Don't think I'd try it, but it sounds interesting.

When gelato started making big waves a few summers ago I thought I could pick out the taste of salt in almost all of the varieties. A few months ago I had opportunity to visit a bakery supplier's warehouse and opportunity to examine the packaging of many of the commercial gelato mixes. Salt is in there

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I tried it this morning with a very small amount of salt (I've read elsewhere that as little as a 1/2 tsp of salt per 10 cups can taste salty). I used 1/8tsp in 48oz water.

No scientific conclusion, but it MAY have tasted a bit mellower and sweeter than what I'm used to.

I did notice something that's come up before, and I doubt has anything to do with the salt. My first cup tasted just slightly thin and bitter. 2nd and 3rd cups (poured from a thermos) tasted mellower, fuller, and sweeter.

Coffee beans were Summatra, freshly ground, roasted about a week ago by porto rico in NYC. I think the beans are pretty good but not amazing overall.

Any thoughts on what causes this transformation?

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I do like to cruise the used bookstore every now and then, and cam across a "campfire cookbook" and came across an interesting recipie for coffee.

The book was written in the early '20's and for the life of me I can't remember the name of it.  Most, if all coffee back then (N.America)was brewed in "perculators", and this recipie called for a "sprinkle of salt and a crushed eggshell" to placed ontop of the grounds."  Don't think I'd try it, but it sounds interesting.

*************

Yes, eggshell and salt used to be a common thing for campfire coffee perculators. Of course these days some people rough it with drip machines, French press pots and a version of "stove top espresso makers", but there are still folks out there with perculators who use the eggshell and salt method. It's been so long since I have had coffee made that way that I have no way to compare.

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The word is spelled percolator. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to them. Guess drip was just a better method.

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The word is spelled percolator.  I sometimes wonder what ever happened to them.  Guess drip was just a better method.

Thanks, Ruth, I hovered over the word when writing, but did not stop to look it up. Percolators are still around, at least at most stores that carry outdoor cooking equipment. And, surprise, here are a zillion percolators in an Amazon search.

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My first cup tasted just slightly thin and bitter. 2nd and 3rd cups (poured from a thermos) tasted mellower, fuller, and sweeter.

Coffee beans were Summatra, freshly ground, roasted about a week ago by porto rico in NYC. I think the beans are pretty good but not amazing overall.

Any thoughts on what causes this transformation?

I've also noticed variations in the mouthfeel - sometimes thin, sometimes with more body. I've assumed that it's due to how much grounds I added, but it sounds like yours was from the same brew.

Perhaps the bitterness taste receptors saturate during the first cup, which allows you to perceive other flavours in the subsequent cups. In my experience, though, it's always the first cup that tastes best (like an addict shooting up), and after all you get is diminishing returns!

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Hi guys,

On the salt thing. I remember an old bartenders trick was to add salt to tonic water, resulting in the tonic actually tasting sweeter. Bizarre, but as already stated, it has something to do with diverting your taste away from bitterness - quinine in the case of tonic.

Whether it works universally with bitter drinks is another question, but i've got the espresso machine warming up, so will give it a go in coffee myself.

paulraphael, seperation in the vessel is quite common, simply because lighter solubles will tend to float, and heavier ones sink. Best thing to do is use a smaller pot, or pour out two or three cups a little bit at a time, so that the contents of the pot are evenly distributed , top to bottom.

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In Louisiana, where a great many of us still do french drip coffee, a pinch of salt on the top of the grounds is what we do. In a french drip pot, the water is poured in slowly...it's supposed to be in teaspoons. I admit I cheat. A LOT. first, my hot water dispenser is set @ right under boiling, and I pour as quick as it'll take it. and I run the whole batch through again so it's not 'new'..ie, the grounds haven't really gotten got yet. In the end, I've had men cry, telling me it's just like he had at Gran

s. I think the hot water dispenser on my sink is probably the first thing I'd replace if I had to do a redo...

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So I've been experimenting on and off with salt in the coffee ... amounts ranging from 1/8 tsp to 1/4 tsp per 48oz pot.

Some of the conventional wisdom seems correct: bad coffee was improved, good coffee was made worse.

It helps with coffee that is thin, bitter, or overly acidy. Prime candidates would be overroasted beans, or a pot that you made trying to stretch too few coffee beans by brewing them too long.

The salt seems to bring out the midrange and the sweetness in coffee that's lacking it. When those aren't issues, then for me it threw the coffee out of balance.

The time I tried 1/2 tsp per pot, it actually tasted salty. Interesting, because that's still a tiny amount of salt.

Anyone else play with this?

edited to add: i just reread the thread ... the comment about barnyardy flavors getting accentuated is part of what i'm tasting when i say "out of balance."


Edited by paulraphael (log)

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So I've been experimenting on and off with salt in the coffee ... amounts ranging from 1/8 tsp to 1/4 tsp per 48oz pot.

Some of the conventional wisdom seems correct: bad coffee is improved, good coffee is made worse.

It helps with coffee that is thin, bitter, or overly acidy. Prime candidates would be overroasted beans, or a pot that you made trying to stretch too few coffee beans by brewing them too long.

The salt seems to bring out the midrange and the sweetness in coffee that's lacking it. When those aren't issues, then for me it threw the coffee out of balance.

The time I tried 1/2 tsp per pot, it actually tasted salty. Interesting, because that's still a tiny amount of salt.

Anyone else play with this?

I have not played with this but have a question: when you eat out do you now find yourself salting suboptimal coffee?

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I have not played with this but have a question: when you eat out do you now find yourself salting suboptimal coffee?

I haven't, but it's a good idea. There's a lot of supoptimal coffee out there.

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I have a collection of 1930s and '40s vacuum coffee makers - Silex, Farberware Robot & etc., and in several of the instructions there is a note to add to "pre-ground" coffee, a scant pinch of salt on top of the grounds.

I have always though this was interesting because apparently freshly ground coffee did not require this addition.

My grandmother always added a scant pinch of salt to the grounds even when freshly ground. We had well water from limestone substrate and it is possible that the tiny bit of salt counteracted some of the minerals in the water that might have inhibited the extraction of flavor from the coffee.

One of my friends lived in Colorado for many years and used a well with water that contained a lot of minerals. They eventually had a treatment system installed but prior to that she said she had to add a small amount of salt to her tea water to get a better infusion.

Sometimes these things are a tradition that began for a particular purpose (the condition of the water) and continued in the family long after moving to another site, simply because "it was always done that way."

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Back in the days of iron men and wooden ships we added a small - like a teaspoon - of salt to the 30 cup pot. It helped with the Navy standard coffee flavored sawdust. I really can't say it helped but we thought it did, of course, we were mostly in our early 20s.

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Salt in coffee has been a revelation to me. Any time I'm using it more as a 'tool' than as a delicious indulgence I will always salt it. It tends to take the awful burnt taste off of Starbucks and Tim Hortons. I've found its best added while it is brewing rather then after.

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The word is spelled percolator. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to them. Guess drip was just a better method.

Much better. Boiling coffee is bad news. When needing to be thrifty by stretching a few beans further than you should, that sort of aggressive brewing scheme has some merit, but cup character will always lose out in a big way.

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That was an April fools joke one year, replaced the sugar w/ salt for my Dad. Does that count?

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I haven't tried putting salt in my coffee and I never wondered about how will it taste like. With regards to what I have read on the replies, I am not sure if I am going to try it. I don't really think it's a good idea anyway. :)

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