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Salt


NeroW
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Forgive me if there is already a thread on this topic (and point me to it if there is).

I accept that salt is a flavor enhancer. I embrace it!

But why?

Scientifically, I mean.

Dave the Cook?

Edited by NeroW (log)

Noise is music. All else is food.

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Forgive me if there is already a thread on this topic (and point me to it if there is).

I accept that salt is a flavor enhancer.  I embrace it!

But why?

Scientifically, I mean.

Dave the Cook?

Pull out your copy of McGee.

McGee's tasting section is outdated. He has that old diagram of the tongue which has been disproven.

Edited by guajolote (log)
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Forgive me if there is already a thread on this topic (and point me to it if there is).

I accept that salt is a flavor enhancer.  I embrace it!

But why?

Scientifically, I mean.

Dave the Cook?

Pull out your copy of McGee.

McGee's tasing section is outdated. He has that old diagram of the tongue which has been disproven.

We're fucked then.

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This is interesting. It makes sense to me.

When the tongue tastes the salt, the brain receives a message that something is being eaten, so the brain tells the nose to start to work.  When the nose receives the message, the nose begins to sense smells of the food.  A person perceives that the salt "enhances" that flavor of the food, but in reality the salt only wakes up the odor receptors.

As a result, the nose will be turned on as soon as the tongue taste salt.  It follows that the salt can be added either in the food or in any accompanying manner.  Having a saltine just before eating a bowl of carrots will have the same effect as salting the carrots before eating.

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I don't have McGee. :shock:

I find it hard to believe that eating a Saltine cracker before eating a bowl of carrots has the same effect as eating salted carrots.

Noise is music. All else is food.

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Well, get thee a copy of McGee, girl! Also of Shirley Corriher's Cookwise, and Harold Hillman's Kitchen Science, and Robert Wolke's What Einstein Told His Cook, and The Inquisitive Cook from the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Even if they don't answer all the questions you'll come up against, they are great reading!

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Some interesting observations on this issue:

There's a paper "Salt enhances flavour by suppressing bitterness" by Breslin and Beauchamp in Nature 387 (1997). The authors suggest that salts "selectively filter flavours." The paper is rather short, but introduces an interesting concept.

For those of you without a subscription to Nature (heh), you can view an abstract here:

http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf...387563a0_r.html

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I asked this question at school today and the Chef said: "who cares why? That's all bullshit. Just do it."

Do you think that means he doesn't know? :raz:

Noise is music. All else is food.

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This is interesting. It makes sense to me.
When the tongue tastes the salt, the brain receives a message that something is being eaten, so the brain tells the nose to start to work.  When the nose receives the message, the nose begins to sense smells of the food.  A person perceives that the salt "enhances" that flavor of the food, but in reality the salt only wakes up the odor receptors.

As a result, the nose will be turned on as soon as the tongue taste salt.  It follows that the salt can be added either in the food or in any accompanying manner.  Having a saltine just before eating a bowl of carrots will have the same effect as salting the carrots before eating.

I'm wondering where the author got his theory -- I've read quite a bit on taste and smell and flavor, and I've never heard that one. Not that it's necessarily false, but I'm always suspicious of claims with no citations.

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From McPherson (2001) in the Protein Science 10, 418-422, a paper comparing abilities of different salts to crystallize proteins, sodium chloride came in in a tie for 8th best crystallization salt.

What does this mean? Not a whole lot except: sodium chloride acts in an appreciable manner with proteins in a matrix containing water.

So, why does salt act as a flavor enhancer? It chemically changes the proteins and causes them to react to cooking heat in a more aesthetically/gustatorially pleasing fashion.

Any better explanation than that, I can't hazard due to the myriad of different protein natures in even a simple cell.

EDIT: clarify murkiness

Edited by jsolomon (log)

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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This is interesting. It makes sense to me.
When the tongue tastes the salt, the brain receives a message that something is being eaten, so the brain tells the nose to start to work.  When the nose receives the message, the nose begins to sense smells of the food.  A person perceives that the salt "enhances" that flavor of the food, but in reality the salt only wakes up the odor receptors.

As a result, the nose will be turned on as soon as the tongue taste salt.  It follows that the salt can be added either in the food or in any accompanying manner.  Having a saltine just before eating a bowl of carrots will have the same effect as salting the carrots before eating.

I read this before leaving for work, and posted my previous comment. Something about it bothered me but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. After contemplating the theory off and on all afternoon and evening, it finally occurred to me what it was, and this is the problem: Our sense of smell is active way before our tastebuds are; that is, our sense of smell is what lets us know there's something edible in the area, and whets the appetite. We smell things before we taste them, not the other way round.

Also, if salt really does "wake up" our olfactory sense, then shouldn't that carrot smell more intense (as well as taste more intense) if sniffed after eating a saltine?

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Did any of these articles answer the question about why it's a flavor enhancer? I couldn't find the answer in any of them.

I couldn't find anything either.

jsolomon's information gets us a bit closer, perhaps, but doesn't seem to apply unless heat is involved. So why watermelon tastes better with the tiniest bit of salt remains a mystery.

Taste receptors have channels that respond to different compounds. When the channel is excited, the nerve that runs between the taste bud and the brain gets triggered (it's a little more complicated than that, of course, but that's the gist of it). There are specific channels for each of the four tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour), though the excitatory mechanism in each case is different. As I understand it, umami works at a higher level by causing multiple channels to interact.

Although there is a specific channel for salt that responds to the Sodium ion, my guess is that there is some sort of ionic interaction between the Sodium (Na+) channel and the other channels, perhaps causing them to open (or close) in the presence of certain other materials. After all, salt doesn't make everything taste better, and it definitely masks some things -- I sometimes find myself pitting salt against lemon juice, for instance. The citation rxrfrx provided alludes to this.

Either that, or it's nanobots.

It's interesting that a lot of research is concetrating on the genetics of taste, using fruit flies as subjects. Turns out that female fruit flies have taste receptors on their genitalia. Less tittilating but more cogent is that the salt receptor in particular seems to have evolutionary significance.

Here are some sites that are (sort of) on point:

The Molecular Mechanisms of Taste Transduction and Coding

Sense of Taste

ChemoReception

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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jsolomon's information gets us a bit closer, perhaps, but doesn't seem to apply unless heat is involved. So why watermelon tastes better with the tiniest bit of salt remains a mystery.

Actually, no additional heat is involved in salts changing the environment around the proteins and causing changes in the proteins. There is quite enough heat at room temperature for these things to happen (our bodies take a lot of advantage of this!).

Why it works for watermelon in different amounts, I would tend to say is more due to salt entering the cells and osmotic pressure rupturing them which releases the cellular contents so they can travel up to our noses.

Yes, I do realize that this seems a bit counter-intuitive, but while you've got water leaving the cell on the side the salt is on, you've also got salt entering the cell on that side and water coming in from the other side. Additionally, it could be similar channels in the cell wall opening up in the same manner that slat shocking a cell can get it to take up DNA for genetics research. Unfortunately, this process is not well understand and is generally taught as voo-doo.

Unfortunately, salt interacts with so many things, and there are so many components to a cell of generic food, that it is well nigh impossible to say that it is only one thing that salt does, except it makes food better.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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IMHO, I think it's more along the line of saliva production. Saliva (or some other liquid) needs to be present in your mouth in order for you to taste anything. Try a cracker (saltine or whatever) in a dry mouth. Nothin. Once the salivary glands get going, then the chemical compunds can actually make contact with the taste buds. And the more liquid present, the more tastebuds the flavor can reach at the same time, which is why chicken soup is more intense than baked, dry, chicken breast. And why tuna salad tastes better than plain tuna. Baked meats are served with a sauce for a reason. It's not so much the addition of other flavors, it's more about getting the chemicals to every tastebud.

Salt must have that effect on some region of the brain. Lemon juice does something similar as well. Notice your mouth actually waters over the thought of lemonade, but not pecan pie. Lemon squares, but not brownies. That's why they say that lemon juice can substitute for at least some salt in recipies. That's also why hot sauces with salt and/or lemon or lime in them seem hotter that those without.

My .02

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Notice your mouth actually waters over the thought of lemonade, but not pecan pie. Lemon squares, but not brownies.

My mouth waters to the sound of bells.

There are many things that start the salivation reflex. It's as much conscious as unconscious, so I don't think it's strictly salt- or acid-based. Smells start people salivating, and bells start some dogs salivating (urinating, too, but that's another thread).

Seriously, though, how salt [and salts] react with protein is one of the research problems I worked in classical chemistry and computational chemistry. It's not easy and really depends a lot on the specific protein in question.

But, there are also vitamins, sugars, lipids, and bastard-children of all four present in living material. Salt does a lot and it's hard to generalize.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Dave, what are nanobots?

:huh:

Nanobots, molecular-scale robots that can clear clogged arteries or inspect and repair microfractures on aircraft and pipelines, are likely to remain science fiction for the foreseeable future.

But materials that can shed dirt and stains are already here, and they represent what may be the first real revolution in technology since people first began chipping away at rocks.

nano-nanoo

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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