Demystifying the Delicious: Why do we crave salty & sweet?
It is nearly impossible to walk into a food establishment these days and not be faced with an offering that combines the delectable duo of salty and sweet that people love, from maple bacon scones, to chocolates topped with sea salt, and salted caramel anything. But unlike some food trends that seem tired after a few months (remember when cupcakes were a thing?), the magical combination of sweetness and saltiness is one of those flavors that will never go out of style. Although, we might be able to pump the brakes on making everything salted caramel flavor, our Salted Caramel Truffles being an exception of course. The other day I saw salted caramel snap pea crisps, which was a little concerning to me. Even for a devout lover of salted caramel like myself, I could probably do without those.
But why are sweetness and saltiness so compatible? It is a combination that tantalizes the taste buds and begs to be devoured. When it comes to tasting flavors there are five tastes that the human tongue picks up on, sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory). It used to be believed that different parts of the tongue tasted different flavors, however now it is known all parts of the tongue are receptive to all five tastes. Our taste buds each have 10-50 sensory cells that connect to nerve fibers. About half of these sensory cells recognize all the five basic tastes and only differ in their sensitivity to each taste. The other half of the sensory cells and nerve fibers are more specialized and only react to one particular taste. Our taste bud’s response to salty and sweet is similar in that both are desirable tastes (unless they are too overpowering of course). Eating something sweet signals caloric intake which means energy and we need sodium for normal bodily function, yet have no storage system for it in our bodies, which is why we crave salt. As Barb Stuckey explains in her book TASTE: Surprising Stories and Science About Why Food Tastes Good, the result of eating a layering of delicious flavors gives us a combination of two positive biological responses, which is a very pleasurable experience.
The combination of two tastes, or flavor profiles is more rewarding to our mouths than just a single taste, such as something being just sweet or only salty. The delicate flakes of Fleur de Sel that you encounter when you bite into one of our Sea Salt truffles only makes the creamy dark chocolate taste richer and more complex. I’ve made the mistake of accidentally omitting salt when making cookies and that one absent teaspoon of salt is the difference between great cookies and just good cookies. Don’t get me wrong, they were still eaten, I just had to use the salt from my tears to make up for it. Ultimately, we do not need science to tell us that the combination of salty and sweet is tasty. Luckily, Alter Eco is not lacking in this department with our perfectly paired chocolate and sea salt in both a bar and truffle form, or the Salted Caramel truffles, and don’t forget Salted Brown Butter too!