Why are chocolate covered pretzels so addictive? Why do salty french-fries and sweet ketchup go so well together? Why is salt a key ingredient in cakes and cookies? How about a watermelon and feta salad… hello perfect summer dish!
To understand how the flavors of sweet and salty merge so beautifully, let’s take a quick look at how your tongue registers flavors.
There are 4 dominant tastes that register on the tongue:
The entire tongue can taste all 4 flavors, but each register more intensely on specific parts of the tongue. When a food has one dominant flavor, we experience the taste on a fairly simple level, but when one food has a number of flavors our sensory brain kicks in and we experience the flavors on numerous levels.
Salt, unlike other flavors, is not only a flavor but an enhancer as well, which is why a pinch of it to a cake or cookie recipe is key. On the other hand too much salt in any recipe is well… yuck!!! That’s because when you taste highly salted foods, not only does your salt receptor kick in, but the bitter and sour receptors are triggered as well. On the other hand a dish with NO salt is bland. The trick with a complete dish (like most things in life) is balance. But we’re still stuck with the salt/sweet conundrum. Why is it that the two flavors when combined, each with a level of intensity is so freaking GOOD?!?!
There is the basic process where the sweet cells on the tongue send a message to the brain to register the flavor as sweet, and then there’s another level where certain sweet receptors are only triggered when salt is added to them.
Think of it like a party. Imagine going to a party that had great music playing but no people. Maybe you’ll enjoy the music, but it’s not really a party without anyone there to enjoy the music with. What about a party with lots of people but no music. Sure, catching up with friends is great, but music would really enhance the night, right? But if the two are combined: now we’re having fun!
So I guess what it comes down to is that when eat perfectly layered foods, like chocolate cover pretzels, you’re hosting a party for your taste buds… rock on cell dudes, rock on!