It is a universal knowledge that the process of cooking food involves the act of tasting to suit the desired flavour.
It is a much-desired chef skill to achieve a balanced flavour when cooking dishes, regardless of the cuisine. And rightly so, because it is a food’s flavour that appeals the most to people.
It is important to understand the science behind taste to achieve that much-desired palate and flavour harmony.
Taste or Gustation is a sensation of flavour perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with a substance. There are separate receptor cells found on different parts of the tongue that is dedicated to each of the five basic tastes, namely: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. But more than that, these cells detect flavour at different sensitivity levels. These five tastes respond and interact with each other, and depending on the most concentrated substance, the rest of the receptors adjust it either by enhancing or even suppressing it. That is the dynamic of these receptors within the tongue. For example: If a sour taste has a low concentration, it can enhance bitterness. But if sour is at moderate concentration, it will suppress bitterness. A classic example is why lime goes with a margarita drink.
This post is one of a 5 part series that will talk about the elements or flavours reflecting the five basic tastes. We start with salt.
Salt or Sodium Chloride (NaCl) is most critically used to enhance food flavours. It does this by drawing moisture from within the food. Salt triggers osmosis by attracting the water and causing it to move toward it. And as the moisture is drawn out, so do subtle tastes trapped within.
It also affects the flavour of food by affecting the other taste receptors in the mouth, as mentioned earlier. Salt has its flavour, but it can suppress or enhance other flavours depending on the concentration used.
Aside from seasoning or enhancing flavours, salt is also used to preserve or cure food. Salt can dehydrate substances deterring bacteria that break down food.
When salt is used through brining, it can draw moisture into the food item, making it more tender. Brining is submerging a cut of meat into a solution of salt and water. It adds flavour and seasoning from the inside out, changing the meat’s physical nature. The salt in brine denatures the meat’s proteins to allow the cells to retain more moisture. Meanwhile, the brine also tenderizes the meat by causing its muscle fibres to unravel and swell. It all comes together to trap so much liquid inside that it can’t all evaporate during the cooking process, creating a moister, juicier piece of meat.
There is more than one type of salt, and most restaurants have several types on hand. Each salt has a significant difference in taste and how it reacts with your food. The shape and size of salt crystals affect how salty that type of salt is.
Kosher Salt is called such because the size of its crystals is ideal for drawing out moisture from the meat, making it perfect for use in the koshering process or curing meat. It is the best all-around salt for cooking. It has a light, coarse grains and slightly large crystals that adhere well to foods. There may also be differences in brands of Kosher Salt depending on how fine the salt crystals are, but in general kosher salt has slightly larger crystals which makes it easier to pinch, hence easier to control the amount.
Table salt is a coarse white salt typically mined from underground deposits. It is processed to remove other minerals and is usually fortified with iodine, which though essential for thyroid health, can impart a bitter flavour. It has small uniform grains making it taste very salty. Because of this, it must be used sparingly as it has more sodium by volume. It is best used for salting water for pasta or blanching vegetables, and making brines for meat.
Sea salt is made from dried seawater; therefore, it contains all the naturally occurring minerals and compounds found in seawater,
It is available in different variations and is typically used for finishing as well as the main ingredient in many desserts and snacks. Often, terms such as “organic,” “natural”, and “pure” also accompany products that contain sea salt, alluding that it’s a healthy alternative to table salt.
It has countless variations depending on the body of water where it’s evaporated from. This also may affect the taste or colour of the salt. The minerals are minor and easily consumed through daily food intake in terms of health. which affects the taste or colour of the salt. The minerals are minor and easily consumed through daily food intake in terms of health.
The complex flavours of sea salt do not generally show up when used during cooking, so they are typically used for finishing only.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan Pink Salt, a type of rock salt from the Punjab region of Pakistan, is near the foothills of the Himalayas. Many claim it is one of the purest salts available, and it boasts several health benefits. It has a high mineral content, making for a lively colour and a slightly richer taste.
It is chemically similar to table salt, with 98 per cent sodium chloride, making it a good substitute for table salt.
Smoked salts are made by cold smoking any salt to impart smoky flavours. Often called “black salt,” they can also feature other spice flavours. It is best used for adding a smoky flavour to foods that aren’t smoked, such as oven-baked ribs. This is a good read about creating smoked salt that you can read.
Pickling & Canning Salts
Pickling salt — sometimes called canning salt or preserving salt — is pure granulated salt (sodium chloride). Pickling salt does not contain anti-caking ingredients, which can make pickling liquid cloudy, or additives like iodine, making pickles dark.
Curing salts, as the name implies, are used for curing meats. They contain sodium nitrates which preserve the quality of meat and prevent spoilage.
RELATED READ: Making The Art of Tasting Work For You
Waiting to season your food until it is fully cooked is often not the way to go. This could result in something that tastes both bland and salty. Choosing the right time to salt means you can usually add less of it while still producing flavourful and delicious food.
Salt affects both taste and the texture of food. For kitchens to achieve consistency, use the salt brand and keep them in an airtight container
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,