They say opposites attract — The taste of salted caramel has us hailing ‘amen’ to that! Sweet and salty flavours possess their familiar pairings; whereas others leave us bewildered; for the merged elements might seem peculiar. More often than not though, if done right, the end product has us wanting more.
It all boils down to Science, with the answer on the tip of our tongues — Quite literally! Our taste buds have clusters of taste receptors that distinguish different flavours. The sugar receptors recognise sweet flavours in entirety when there’s also a little sodium present. Makes sense why we are told to sprinkle some salt in the brownie batter, right?
Being a flavour enhancer, salt intensifies our perception of the flavour compounds that are in play; allowing us to truly delight in what we are eating. But there’s more than just enhancing flavours to bring to the table of hungry food connoisseur. Let’s dive a little deeper…
Keeping food Science in mind, chefs around the world have garnered an understanding for the requirements that make our palates tick. That’s where flavour layering comes in. To simplify this concept, Culinary Head at Gallops, Yajush Malik explains, “Different chemicals have different reactions on our palates. This is because of the way our taste receptors recognise or perceive each element through the chemicals present in food. Salt makes sweet things taste better because it activates additional sweet taste receptors on our palate. Similar to how MSG gives us an Umame flavour.”
So that confirms: The pairing of sweet and salty delivers off the charts results. Come to think of it though — these components have been a part of our innate being. From the start of evolution, hunters and cavemen would relish on fruit with salt, meats with fruit.
To the beginnings of ancient cooking, evolution of culinary and recipe creating to this present day where we practice modern cooking — sweet and salty elements have always had a vital hand.
To elaborate, Yash Rajpal, Chef Partner at Milliways Broth Noodle & Bao explains, “Cuisines from around the world have practiced the pairing of salty with sweet way back in time. If not added in one of its pure forms, sugar has been incorporated into savoury foods in other forms, that is, coconut milk, browned onions, slow roasted tomatoes, dried fruits to name a few.”
He continues, “Chefs today are well aware of the relevance of the salt-sugar balance. A dish with the lack of either one would taste incomplete. The correct salt-sugar balance brings out hidden, delicate flavours in a dish creating a dance of flavours on the palate.”
When asked if he has challenged this pairing at his own Premium Asian delivery kitchen, Rajpal replies, “Yes! At Milliways we use honey for sweetness in our Miso Ramen to balance out the salt from the Miso. The end product is almost addictive! A well-balanced, intensely flavoured Ramen.”
That traditional touch
Our incredible India plays a monumental role in the constantly evolving global food circuit. Let’s touch base on the marriage of sweet and salty flavours in traditional cooking. With attainable examples to incorporate in the kitchen, we spoke with Reetu Uday Kugaji, Culinary Expert & Chef Consultant.
Chef Kugaji continues, “Another option is the Mughlai version of Malai Kofta in white gravy that has both sweet and salty elements in it. It has a smooth onion puree with heavy cream, and khoya. For the koftas, sweet potatoes can be used instead of regular ones. The dish also has raisins and cashews which adds sweetness to the rich and creamy kofta gravy.”