The Importance of Salt

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Recent research has uncovered intriguing indications that thickeners reduce our perception of aroma in part because they reduce our perception of saltiness. Various long-chain carbohydrates, including starch, first reduce the apparent saltiness of the sauce, either by binding sodium ions to themselves or by adding another sensation (viscosity) for the brain to attend to. Then this reduced saltiness reduces the apparent aroma intensity—despite the fact that the same number of aroma molecules are flowing out of the sauce and across the smell receptors in our nose. The practical significance of this finding is that thickening a sauce with flour or starch diminishes its overall flavor, and that both taste and aroma can be restored to some extent by the simple addition of more salt.