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To Salt or Not to Salt Your Coffee? The Pros and Cons

To Salt or Not to Salt Your Coffee? The Pros and Cons

Coffee is the most versatile beverage, making it one of the best drinks in the world. 

You can drink it plain black or add milk and sugar to enhance sweetness. You can use creamer or also go with a half-and-half. But, you will be surprised to know about an ingredient that can reduce acidity in your coffee, and that is salt! 

Short Answer: Salt is used to mellow out coffee that is too acidic. It dampens the bitterness without using any other additives.  

The science behind adding salt to coffee might seem confusing to you, so let’s talk about it and see why people even do that. Let’s go!

Why Do People Add Salt To Coffee?

People add salt to coffee because it neutralizes its usual bitter taste. The addition of salt to coffee has also been a part of different cultures for several decades.

Adding salt to coffee might seem like a new trend, but this is a practice established for decades in different cultures. Let’s talk about it. 

In Northern Scandinavia, adding salt to coffee and water is an old practice. There is a premarital ceremony in Turkey where the bride makes coffee by adding salt for his future husband and in-laws.

You can find a famous sea salt coffee in Taiwan by adding salted milk foam in iced Americano. 

And now you might wonder why people do this? They do this to balance out the flavor profile of coffee. Salt is best for neutralizing the bitter taste of coffee. 

Is it good to add salt to coffee?

an assortment of coffee and coffee beans next to a purse that says hello sunshine

A pinch of salt is suitable for your java. It enhances dessert recipes, and a dash of it can also do wonders in coffee. 

Salt is a neutralizer for coffee bitterness and has been used in coffee culture for ages

And no, your coffee will not get salty. You just need to add a pinch of about 1/8 teaspoon before brewing to make your coffee smoother. 

Salt activates the salt receptor longer and balances out the bitter receptors, leading to a cross-modal perception. 

Not only does salt reduce the acidity and bitterness of coffee, but it also enhances the natural sweetness of the coffee. That’s the reason why salt is also used in margaritas drinks because it enhances the sweetness of tequila and lime. 

Does salt reduce the bitterness in coffee?

Yes, salt reduces the bitterness in coffee. How?

The science behind it is connected with our taste buds. There are taste buds lined in thousand of numbers on the tongue’s surface, and each of them can identify the five main basic tastes:

  • Salty
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Umami 

When we eat food, it tends to set off a chemical reaction on the tongue that is further transmitted to our brain, and the brain does the job of identifying the taste. 

However, we know from this research that the biological mechanisms of all these flavors, including sweet, umami, sour, and salty, are similar except for bitter flavor. 

Bitterness, unlike other taste buds, operate differently. It releases calcium instead of a normal reaction. This reaction sends the bitter signal to our brains. 

Salt has its flavors, and it masks the bitterness by covering the reaction because it has not yet been demystified. 

How much salt should I put in my coffee?

A famous cookbook author, Alton Brown, suggests adding a quarter teaspoon of salt in six tablespoons of coffee ground for the best result. 

You can add a pinch of salt to a brewed cup of coffee. 

James Hoffmann, the World Barista Champion, suggests adding 0.3 grams of salt can improve the mouthful taste of low-quality instant coffee. On the other hand, coffee expert Scott Rao suggests 0.15 gram in 100 gram brewed coffee for espresso and filter coffee. 

What happens when you put salt in your coffee?

salt in a saltshaker

When you add salt to your coffee, it overrides the bitter reaction of coffee flavors on your tongue. 

Unlike popular opinion, caffeine is not the only reason your coffee tastes bitter. According to chemists, caffeine cause only 15% bitterness in coffee. The rest of the bitter flavor comes from Phenylindanes and Chlorogenic Acid Lactones.

Interestingly the compound is not naturally found in green coffee but released during roasting. Phenylindances compound creates more bitters. The longer the coffee gets roasted, the more Phenylindances are released, making coffee more bitter. 

Extraction also impacts the intensity of the bitter flavor of the coffee. Poverty precision during the brewing process of coffee can lead to over-extraction, including using too hot water, wrong size grind, or letting the coffee sit in a French press for too long.

Over extracted coffee tastes more bitter and harsher than usual. Take a look at my other article to better understand the extraction of coffee and how it works.

These bitter tastants of coffee trigger bitter receptors of the tongue that signal the brain. Salt activates the receptors that inhibit the perception of bitterness and thus balance the flavors. 

Benefits of Adding Salt to Coffee

Adding salt to coffee does more than reducing the bitterness of coffee. 

Here is a table containing details about the properties of salt:

Compound Sodium Chloride
Chemical Formula NaCl
ColorColorless or white when the pure form
Boiling Point 1,465 °C
Melting Point 801 °C
Salt Properties

Dampens Bitterness

Science has shown that sodium effectively neutralizes the bitter taste.

This is because taste buds on our tongues react to salt receptors instead of bitter receptors. This effective hack is backed by a specialist pediatric dietitian and says in an article that:

Salt tastes good as receptors pick it up on the tongue. It blocks bitter and sour flavors, which is why it’s often added to foods to make them more palatable.

Clare Thornton-Wood

Improves Stale Water

Salt in water enhances its quality and makes it denser. Leaving water in coffee for too long can make it stale, making coffee taste ridiculous. Adding a pinch of salt in water improves water quality and thicker texture. Thus, the better quality water further creates better coffee.

Alternative for Sugar

Those who need to limit their sugar intake but can’t drink bitter coffee should try using salt instead of sugar. Not only will it improve the sweet flavors of coffee, but it is a healthier option compared to sugar. 

Drinking too much coffee can cause a loss of sodium in your body. The recommended sodium intake by the FDA is less than 2300 mg per day and it’ll only be after several cups of coffee before it can make you lose this much sodium.

Salt is the best sodium intake for those who drink coffee daily because one dash of 0.4 mg of salt contains 155 mg of sodium. Plus, if we add salt to our coffee, it will help reduce bitterness.  

If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this video explaining why you should be adding salt to your coffee:

Wrapping Up

a spilled cup of coffee beans

So, adding salt to coffee is not a new trend but a method that has been utilized for years to make coffee smoother and help reduce its bitterness. You can choose the way you add salt to your coffee.

You can either add a small amount to your ground or add a pinch of salt in an already brewed cup of coffee.

The most important thing is not to overdo the amount. Only use salt when you feel your coffee has gone too stale and taste poor quality. 

Also, if you don’t like the bitter taste of coffee and use an unhealthy amount of sugar or creamer to subside the acidity, you should switch to salt. Your coffee will taste sweater without adding extra unhealthy calories by adding salt.

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