Does Salt in Coffee Reduce Bitterness?


Reasons to Put Salt in Coffee
Adding salt to coffee blocks bitter and sour receptors and enhances flavor. Even though it adds sodium, caffeine in coffee causes the body to lose sodium, so it’s not really a concern.

Many people add sugar or cream to coffee, but salt in coffee might be just what you need to improve the flavor and possibly make your cup of joe healthier. Here’s a look at whether salt really makes coffee less bitter, how it works, and how much salt you need to get the effect.

How Salt Makes Coffee Less Bitter

The five basic tastes of food are salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and savory or umami. Salt affects the flavor of food by increasing the sensitivity of certain taste receptors and decreasing the sensitivity of others. At low concentrations, the sodium ion from salt suppresses the transduction mechanism that sends signals to the brain for bitter and sour flavors. At the same time, salt enhances sweetness. The end result is that salt brings out fruity, complex flavors. This is why salt goes well with a margarita. The same effect applies to coffee, too.

Most people assume caffeine is the culprit to coffee bitterness, but any decaf drinker can tell you there’s more to the story. Roasting coffee produces bitter-tasting chlorogenic acid, lactones, and phenylindanes. Darker roasts contain more phenylindanes and taste the most bitter. Leaving brewed coffee on heat too long also makes it more bitter. Salt reduces the bitterness of both regular and decaffeinated coffee and can help save a “burned” pot.

How Much Salt You Need to Add

Chef Alton Brown recommends brewing coffee using two tablespoons of ground coffee and a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt per cup of water. This amount of salt reduces bitterness, but also adds detectable saltiness. If you don’t want to taste salt in your coffee, a few grains per cup are enough to remove the bitter taste.

Other Effects of Salt in Coffee

  • Salt may make your cup of coffee healthier because reducing the bitterness may make sugar and cream unnecessary.
  • Salting coffee adds dietary sodium, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The caffeine in coffee increases urine production and can reduce sodium in the body. One study calculates drinking four cups of coffee completely depletes the US RDA for sodium because so much of the nutrient gets lost as urine. If caffeine stimulates your bladder, you can drink salted coffee without worrying about sodium. However, many people’s bodies adapt to caffeine, so its diuretic effect diminishes over time.
  • Some sources claim salting coffee makes it less acidic and reduce the incidence of acid reflux. From a chemistry perspective, adding salt has no effect on the acidity of coffee. From a medical perspective, salt is known acid reflux trigger for many individuals. The only reason salt might make coffee less acidic is that it could make darker roasts (bitter yet less acidic) more palatable.

References

  • Breslin, P. A. S.; Beauchamp, G.K. (1995). “Suppression of Bitterness by Sodium: Variation Among Bitter Taste Stimuli.” Chemical Senses. 20: 609-623.
  • Breslin, P. A. S.; Beauchamp, G.K (1997).. “Salt enhances flavor by suppressing bitterness.” Nature. 387: 563.
  • Breslin, P. A. S. (1996). “Interactions among salty, sour and bitter compounds.” Trends in Food Science & Technology. 7: 390.
  • Henney, J.E.; Taylor, C.L.; Boon, C.S. (eds.) (2010). “Taste and Flavor Roles of Sodium in Foods: A Unique Challenge to Reducing Sodium Intake.” Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake. National Academies Press.
  •  Maughan, R.J.; Griffin, J. (December 2003). “Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review”. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 16 (6): 411–20. doi:10.1046/j.1365-277X.2003.00477.x

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