Why You Should Put Salt in Your Coffee?

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There has been a trend of adding salt to coffee, which is advocated by scientific studies. Have you tried to do this? 

Most coffee drinkers visit cafes or restaurants and order their favorite ones such as americano, latte, creamy coffee, and so on. Even if they make coffee at home, they add either milk or sugar or drink directly.

Science came up with the reasons for this kind of salt and coffee combination. But before kicking into the reasons behind it, we shall first get to know who and how adding salt in coffee was being introduced to the public.

The Science and Other Instances Behind The Salt and Coffee Combination

The combination of coffee and salt sparked the coffee lovers when Alton Brown, a well-known cookbook author, and food science expert, introduced it to the audience in an episode of his 2009 GoodEats show. Brown suggested that putting a quarter teaspoon of Kosher salt to 6 tablespoons of coffee grounds in a cup of coffee can neutralize bitterness than sugar.

Mr. Brown did not make this salty coffee hack an odd thing because there is a long tradition in some countries. Northern Scandinavia, Sibir, Turkey, and Hungary were observed to have the tradition of putting salt in the coffee. Not only these countries, but those located near the coast used brackish water to brew coffee since fresh water in the river and sea were mixed. According to Martin Lersch, a chemist and the writer of food and cooking on the Khymos website explained brackish water has a lower salt content of 0.5% to 3% compared to 3.5% seawater. So this kind of water brings a more intense taste and greater foam for making a cup of coffee.

You may wonder why coffee makers always add sweet ingredients to reduce bitterness in coffee, we need to understand the amount of bitter taste that is found in caffeine.

The Bitterness in Coffee

In coffee, of course, bitterness is the primary but too strong flavor. Many scientists at the Technical University of Munich in Germany claimed that caffeine comprises approximately 15% bitterness in coffee. Moreover, Chlorogenic Acid Lactones and Phenylindanes are the two main compounds for coffee bitter taste, and the antioxidants contained in roasted coffee beans. The former compounds exist in lighter roasted coffee, yet the latter ones are found in darker roasts. In this way, it means the stronger coffee is roasted the more bitter taste it gets. To be clearer about coffee bitterness, the end of brewing creates stronger flavor because this taste compounds are water insoluble. In fact, bitterness also occurs when coffee brewing time is too long, or leave on a hot cup for too long, or if you use high temperature water to extract coffee. But you are able to maintain thick and satisfying coffee without unpleasant bitterness in no longer than 20 to 30 minutes.

Nevertheless, other factors that can also favor bitterness are dirty brewing machines, using poor quality coffee beans, putting improper coffee amounts in proportion to water.

Salt Can Limit the Taste of Bitterness In Coffee

Most people who are not used to bitter coffee, like americano, will prefer ice latte. The preference might be the first reason they choose to drink it, but they additionally feel like it is the only option to temper the bitter effects. Actually, salt can also combat bitterness as great as sugar. According to Liz Clayton, a writer for Serious Eats website and the creator of the Nice Coffee Time book, “salt somehow either blocking or tricking our brain and tongue into receiving all of that bitter taste,”

If we compare the bitter taste of coffee to some other elements such as grapefruit, bitter melon, radicchio, cocoa, etc. these are the appealing part of flavor. On the other hand, Clayton added “but in other instances, such as our body identifying toxicity in foods, or more to the point, in professional coffee grading, it can symbolize less desirable characteristics,” The Specialty Coffee Association categorises flavors as under the “bitterness” rubric can refer to defects including “caustic”, “phenolic”, “creosol” and “alkaline”. So she said, “Those don’t probably sound like something you’d like in your morning cup, whether they’re from defect or not.”

If we are to identify what triggers bitterness, it is not either the brewing problem or the fault or defect, we will still limit this taste with sugar or salt additives.

The Way to Add Salt to Coffee Appropriately

Although there is a trick about putting a pinch of salt in the coffee, the mechanics are not fully specified. You can add salt to your caffeinated drink either before brewing or after brewing. “If you want to experiment with adding salt to your coffee, opinions are divided on whether to add before or after brewing, but many seem to prefer tossing a pinch or two into the grounds before adding water,” said Liz Clayton. She did the salt and coffee experiments but the coffee flavor was not enhanced much. She continued to explain, “the flavors of an acidic and lively coffee did smooth and even out with a pinch of salt in the grounds.” 

Similarly, Mr. Lersch also tried to put salt in a drip coffee maker and in the filter basket for his cup of espresso. He said there was no salty flavor in espresso, whereas “the tests were very un-scientific, but the tiny amount of salt does dampen bitterness and change the coffee taste.” His specific method about it is roughly using 1,5 dL (150 grams) of tonic water and putting 1,5 to 2 grams of salt for a glass. Although this combination minimizes the bitterness, the coffee is not flavorful at all.

The Benefits of Adding Salt To Coffee

Cut Down Bitterness

Putting salt in caffeinated beverages is better at neutralizing bitterness. Chemical studies show that sodium salt effectively prevents bitterness. The reason is your taste buds on the tongue react to salty taste instead of coffee flavor itself. Research regarding the tastes – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami – illustrates the taste buds produce a calcium ion that reacts to bitterness and delivers it to the brain. And, with salt operating to amplify other tastes, it can cover up the bitter sensation on the taste buds. Likewise, Dr. Clare Thornton-Wood, a specialist pediatric dietitian, also claimed in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s article that salt can block bitterness and sourness. He added, “Salt tastes good as it is picked up by receptors on the tongue. It blocks bitter and sour flavors, which is why it is often added to foods to make them more palatable.” So, compared to sugar or other sweet toppings, salt can neutralize bitterness better. 

Improve Stale Water and Enhance Coffee Flavor

Mr. Brown personally took salt and coffee combination as an experiment and further explained, “Not only does salt cut the bitterness of coffee, but it also smooths out the ‘stale’ taste of tank-stored water.” Because the longer the water stays in the coffee machine or coffee maker, the stale it will become. Not only you cannot feel freshly-brewed coffee, but there will also be a sour aftertaste in your mouth because of leaving with stale for too long.

Scientifically, besides effectively reducing bitterness, sodium ions (salt) also perfectly enhance the flavor of coffee, proved by a study from the journal Nature. An experienced barista Sasha Pavlovich said “common descriptions of coffee’s flavor include fruity and nutty. Fruity flavors may impart a hint of berries or cherries, while nuttier notes draw the comparison to chocolate or toast.” It clearly tells us that salt is the improvement of the nuance and depth of these flavors in coffee.

You may still think that by adding this kind of sodium substance, your coffee will become salty. The answer is no for your curiosity. In another way, putting salt in coffee creates an aroma. Coffee lovers surely recognize the comforting and familiar scent of fresh-brewed coffee, Sasha explained that we should “add a dash of salt to the coffee grounds before they brew to help the scent of coffee match its flavor.”

When salt improves the quality of water, it provides the rich taste in coffee as well.

Benefit Your Health

Having sweet additives inside coffee causes the increase of calories. If you are on a diet and still want to crave a cup of coffee, rather than sweeteners, putting salt in it is a good option. On the other hand, using salt in a caffeinated drink; for example, just a pinch of salt, makes your heart to be in a good condition. In addition to this, salt can help to replenish the sodium. Your body tends to lose some of the sodium along with the coffee you drink. In a day, 1200 mg sodium will be taken away from your body if you consume four cups of coffee. Even though you have just a cup, coffee itself increases urination and flush out the sodium. For this reason, you should try adding salt to coffee in order to gain some sodium back. You will stay healthy by drinking in such a balanced way.

According to Sasha mentioned on the CoffeeHow website that proper sodium intake can make contraction become healthy and relieve muscle tension. On top of that, your nervous system, endocrine and metabolic function will be improved when you add appropriate salt amounts to your coffee.

Control Acid Reflux

Acidity is found in some coffee more than others. Most people prefer to choose types of coffee that have a fresh, citrusy quality to their acidic components. However, other poor qualities of your coffee grounds and the roast on your beans can give you acid reflux. For darker roasts, it contains less acid than light and medium roasts. You are recommended to drink dark roast coffee, like Arabica bean, for those who need to solve acid problems inside the body. Because through the roasting process, most of the acid is taken away. Furthermore, we should not forget that salt can eliminate some of the acid reflux. Using some grains of salt for your meal assists to decrease lower esophageal sphincter pressure, claimed by the Dutch study in 2006. And the stomach contents from being pushed into the esophagus can be prevented. By lowering the pressure, it calms down GERD, heartburn, and acid reflux symptoms. Hence, if your coffee is not dark roast, you should put a pinch of salt in it to make acid-induced bitterness have less effect on your body.

Health Disadvantages of Coffee with Salt

Kidney Issues

More salt consumption is not good for a kidney that is weak to tolerance to sodium. You should know excess urination stems from salted coffee. Practically, the kidneys have a role in regulating salt levels inside the body. And coffee is known to be a diuretic. So when there is coffee intake along with salt, it has a negative impact on the kidneys. 

While drinking coffee, you are advised to consume other liquids, especially water, in order to maintain healthy kidneys and urination. So stay hydrated to avoid this kidney problem.

Excess Iodine

Salt comprises iodine, which prevents many diseases. This iodine can keep thyroid function and cell metabolism, which are needed by your body. Besides salt, iodine also consists in dairy, eggs, fish, dairy, and veggies. Unfortunately, too much iodine intake leads to serious symptoms such as goiter and thyroid gland inflammation, and thyroid cancer.

Bottom Line

It is alright to stick to your common coffee drinking routine without the help of salt to enhance your cup flavor. Sodium is necessary for too bitter coffee, improving stale water, and helping with acid reflux. Remember that some types of coffee have high acidity, so this salt hack is helpful. Putting a pinch of salt in coffee will surely smooth the flavors, but sugar, milk and other sweeteners such as vanilla, caramel also have the effect of mellowing out the bitterness. 

References

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