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If I told you that I put salt in your coffee, would you still drink it? Experimenting with coffee is nothing new. Wherever there’s coffee, there’s always some sort of add-on that comes with it. You have the standard milk and sugar, but for those who are more experimental, there’s coconut oil, syrup, matcha, and even alcohol. There’s a different coffee and espresso recipe to suit your needs and whims.
Back to the salt. Putting salt in coffee seems like an outlandish idea. Rumor has it that putting a pinch of salt to coffee has benefits to it that cream and sugar don’t pull off. Moreover, it is not a new concept at all. Apparently, it’s been done in other countries and cultures for many years! Read on to find out more about this drink and decide whether it’s something you’d like to try.
Benefits of Salt
Before diving into the details of why you should put salt in your coffee, let’s first talk about salt. Here’s a list of some of its general benefits:
- It helps preserve food
- Can be used as a cleaning agent
- It has antibacterial/antiseptic
- It Helps maintain water balance in the body
- Helps regulate the pH levels in the body
- Helps regulate blood pressure
- Enhance the flavor of food
Why Put Salt in Coffee
Scientifically speaking, putting salt in coffee makes sense. Each flavor profile (sweet, sour, salty, umami and bitter) interacts with our palate in different ways. When salt is added to foods that have a sweet, sour and umami profile, it enhances the flavor. However, the interaction between salty and bitter is quite different because salt can neutralize bitter.
Normally, people would load their coffee with sugar and milk to mask the bitter taste of coffee. However, if we were to follow the explanation above, wouldn’t it make more sense to use salt if you’re sensitive to bitterness?
Tequila is often served with salt. This is because the salt counteracts the bitterness of the alcohol and bring out the sweetness of the tequila. In the same vein, when you put salt in coffee, not only are you neutralizing the bitterness, but it also brings out the natural sweetness of the coffee beans that you used.
Dark roast beans yield coffee that is bitter compared to light roast coffee. If you want to cut through the bitterness and fully enjoy the depth of flavor that a dark roast coffee has, then you might want to add a pinch of salt to balance the flavor of dark roast coffee. The salt may bring out the natural sweetness of coffee while maintaining the aroma. Milk and sugar might contribute some sweetness and creaminess, but it will also add more empty calories.
Putting salt in coffee has been practiced in many cultures for many years. In Europe, specifically the coastal towns, locals have been known to use salt water when brewing coffee, while in Scandinavian countries, they put sea salt in brewed coffee. Putting a foam made of sea salt on top of iced coffee is quite popular in Taiwan.
The Alton Brown Coffee Trick
Although salt in coffee has been around for a while, popular cookbook author and TV show host, Alton Brown brought this idea to the public a few years back. He suggested adding a pinch of salt to ground coffee prior to brewing will counteract the bitterness of the coffee. Moreover, the salt helps improve the taste of stale water. Using water that has been stored in a tank or bottled water that has been on shelves for who-knows-how-long can affect the flavor of even the best and freshest coffee beans. Remember: the other major component of a good cup of coffee is the water you use to brew!
He suggests that the overall effect of adding salt to ground coffee is a cup that is not as bitter while enhancing the taste of the coffee. In a way, salt might be more effective at masking the bitterness than sugar. Because the salt neutralizes and doesn’t mask the bitterness, the result is cleaner and a more balanced-tasting coffee.
Use Salt, not Sugar in your Coffee
Plain brewed coffee has a ton of benefits including giving a boost of energy and alertness. It contains a lot of antioxidants and aids in fat burning. It takes a big amount of sugar, milk, and other additives to completely get rid of the bitter taste of coffee (blended drinks and frappes ring a bell?). Sugar, cream, syrup, and other add-ons might counteract the benefits of plain old, brewed coffee.
Coffee is a known diuretic. In fact, drinking too much coffee can cause dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Salt, because of its water-retention qualities, can prevent this from happening.
You can use salt as a replacement if you’re monitoring or lessening your sugar intake. However, be mindful of the amount of salt you put in your coffee. If you put too much, you can suffer from the side effects of adding too much salt including increased risk for heart-illness and kidney failure.
It has been said that salt can reduce acid in coffee. Aside from addressing the bitterness, you can use it to mellow down the acidity. This can be good for those who suffer from acid reflux. Now you don’t have to prevent yourself from enjoying a cup of coffee!
When Should you be Adding Salt to Coffee?
There are different ways to approach this question. Alton Brown has spoken about adding salt to ground coffee before brewing. Since you’re only going to put a pinch of salt, it shouldn’t interfere with the taste of the final product. Other people have also spoken about the benefits of adding salt after the coffee is brewed. This is possible in situations where you’re served a less-than-stellar cup of coffee (say, at the office pantry or on a flight). Check for the level of bitterness and overall taste, then add salt to make the drink more palatable. Much like seasoning food, you want to taste it before you add in seasoning (in this case, salt) and then determine how much to put.
Alton Brown used kosher salt in his coffee, but you can use other types like Himalayan pink salt, pure salt. Just in case you’re wondering, do not use herbed salt! Some have suggested using salt solution because it dilutes the saltiness while maintaining the benefits. The final product has a smoother taste with a better mouthfeel.
When to Take a Pass on Putting Salt in your Coffee
Coffee by itself has a lot of health benefits. Just because you can use salt, doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. If you’re going to brew high quality beans, then maybe you can hold off on adding anything that might mess with its taste. High quality coffee beans and brewing methods can yield a product that is good on its own. Instead, use salt when you’re trying a subpar type of coffee—ones that are about to go bad but are somehow still workable, or a complementary cup of coffee from the office cafeteria.
Some people use this as a hack: putting a pinch of salt to somehow alter the taste of not-so-greatly brewed coffee. In this case, it’s not so much about elevating the flavor of coffee, so much as it’s about doing damage control.
Coffee is a wonderful drink that is loved by many. The possibilities are endless when it comes to experimenting with different recipes, add-ons, and brewing techniques. Sugar, milk, syrup, eggs, matcha and butter have had their share of attention, and now it’s time to consider a different option.
When it comes to coffee, it’s important to look for balance of flavor. There is a way to achieve the right combination of bitterness, acidity and even sweetness. If your coffee is a little too bitter, then go ahead and put some salt in your coffee. If you enjoy the bitter taste, then put the add-ons away. It all comes down to taste preference.
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