In this article I will try to guide you through the facts and all the benefits of having salt in coffee.
- The Alton Brown Trick
- What Makes Coffee Bitter?
- Benefits of Adding Salt to Coffee
- How Much Salt Should You Add to Your Coffee?
- How to Add Salt to Your Coffee
- Disadvantages of Salted Coffee
- Frequently Asked Questions
As coffee lovers, we have our own unique preferences when it comes to how we take our cup of coffee. For some, black with 2 teaspoons of sugar does it, while for others, it has to be all whipped up with cream and other sweeteners.
Nevertheless, sweeteners or not, all coffee lovers have one thing in common: we all know what good coffee tastes like. That’s why in every office, there’s always that one guy who isn’t allowed to make coffee for the team. We love him, but when it comes to coffee, our pot takes the preference.
There’s however an old trend in the community that’s slowly resurfacing: salt in coffee?
That may sound wooly or cheesy at first, but you’ll be surprised to know that many coffee lovers are now recommending adding a pinch of salt to your steaming mug to make your coffee taste better. In fact, several studies that have been done on the subject have backed up this claim.
This isn’t the first time that salt in coffee is being recommended though. There are records of several cultures globally salting their cup of coffee.
For instance, the Hungarians, Siberians and the Scandinavians have, for the longest time, brewed their coffee in brackish water. This is the water from points where rivers mix with saltwater, resulting in a mildly salty solution. Because of the availability of brackish water in plenty, people in Northern Scandinavia used it in all of their cooking needs including prepping coffee.
Now, whenever clean water was available, the coffee didn’t taste as good, and so they resorted to brackish water just for making coffee, passing on this tradition through generations.
The Alton Brown Trick
The mention of salt in coffee probably brings up Alton Brown, the cookbook author and a food scientist who advocated for adding salt in coffee to reduce bitterness. He recommends adding a bit of kosher salt ground coffee to help tone down the bitterness and smoothen out the stale.
What Makes Coffee Bitter?
While many of us think that it’s the caffeine that makes coffee bitter, it turns out that that’s not necessarily the case. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich, Germany found out in their experimentation that the caffeine component that is naturally occurring in the green beans only accounts for 15% of the bitterness in coffee.
The rest is majorly due to the two compounds: Chlorogenic acid lactones and phenylindanes. These compounds are antioxidants, and they only appear in roasted beans.
Roasting your beans slightly results in the formation of chlorogenic acid lactones, while further burning leads to the breakdown of your grounds into Phenylindanes. Thus, the more strongly roasted your grounds are the bitter the brews.
How you make your coffee:
Coffee making in itself is an art, that is perfected over time. While you may have perfectly roasted coffee, you may still end up with that steaming cup that just needs lots of creams to make it drinkable.
Some of the things that may lead to having bitter coffee include:
- Over brewing: Letting your coffee steep too long is a recipe for disaster when it comes to coffee making. You’ll be surprised but this happens a lot especially when you are using a French Press. Many people forget to pour the coffee out after pushing the pressure down, giving the coffee more time to extract, resulting in a stronger brew. Transfer your coffee to a thermal carafe instead as this stops the extraction while still keeping your coffee hot.
- Using too hot water: The right temperature for your water should be around 195°F to 205°F, according to the National Coffee Association. This optimal temperature ensures that water does not come to a boil, thus extracting the bitter compounds. Of course, with cold brews, you do not need any heat.
- Using too fine grinds: If you want the best coffee, then going for finer grinds isn’t the answer. This will only make your coffee bitter due to the ease at which caffeine is extracted from the grounds.
- Poor quality beans: Good coffee beans come with a price, and so does good coffee. When you go shopping, consider spending a little bit more so as to get the best grades.
- Old equipment: using old French pressers and coffee machines that are not being cleaned regularly could be the reason why your freshly brewed cup of coffee is tasting exceptionally bitter. Coffee’s delicate taste is easily affected by contaminants.
- Quality of your water: Sounds cheesy but it’s true; your coffee is as good as your water.
Benefits of Adding Salt to Coffee
1. Reduce the Bitterness of Coffee.
While your coffee tastes as good as you usually prefer it, chances are that you have somehow condoned with bad coffee just because you were in a place where you couldn’t own the kitchen, or just that going through the same process all over again isn’t quite appealing when you are rushing to beat the morning traffic.
So, you do, what everyone in our position would: Gulp that bitter coffee down your throat, grimace your face, and go ‘oops! That was quite a morning!’
Now try adding a bit of salt into that steaming cup and you’ll note the difference in taste. Though subtle, if you add salt to coffee you will always cut the bitterness and make it taste better.
The surface of the tongue has got tens of thousands of taste buds that are capable of identifying the five rudimentary tastes:
Now when food comes in contact with these taste buds, a chemical reaction is triggered which then transmits a signal to the brain, allowing you to identify the taste.
The mechanism of producing four of the five tastes; sweet, salty, sour, and umami are similar. Adding salt to coffee helps to amplify these four tastes. Bitterness, on the other end, has a different mechanism, which makes it possible to be combatted by salt. Instead of the normal reaction, the receptors release calcium ion that sends a bitter signal to the brain. When salt is added to this equation, it impedes the reaction and thus preventing the brain from identifying the substance as bitter.
So, if you want to make your coffee less bitter and more drinkable without having to add lots of sweeteners, then consider brewing it with salt additives.
2. Improves Stale Water.
The smell of stale water will affect the taste of your coffee. The water that sits for a long time can become stale and hence less effective in brewing coffee. Using stale water may also lead to inconsistent extractions. By adding salt to your coffee, you improve the quality since it will even out the stale of the old water.
Salt also makes the water denser, giving you coffee with a thicker texture.
So, if you don’t want to go looking for fresh mineral water or you just want to reduce wastage of water in your household, then simply add salt to improve old water that has been in the coffee machine for a while.
3. Salt in Coffee Enhances the flavor.
We all have different preferences when it comes to flavors. Natural coffee without additives except for sugar, may not be appealing to a group of people. If that’s you, then consider this kitchen hack.
Recall how we used to (still do) add salt to lemonade to improve its taste? Well, salt has the same effect on coffee. It makes the subtle fruity taste of coffee grounds more pronounced. Different types will give you different results, so you may want to experiment until you find the beans that give you the desired taste when salt is added to the mix. And once you find the prefect balance you will probably want to repeat the same thing next time.
This experiment sought to prove that salt enhances flavor by suppressing bitterness.
4. Salt in Coffee Have Health Benefits
Coffee in itself has several health benefits, that’s why we drink it. It has nutrients such as Potassium, magnesium, and some powerful antioxidants. People also take coffee as it gives them an adrenaline boost, improves energy levels, and is effective in burning fat.
You also benefit from a reduced risk of medical conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
These benefits are experienced at their optimal when coffee is taken naturally without additives.
However, that’s not how we take our coffee. Addition of the empty calories such as cream, syrups, and sugar makes the coffee less healthy, without adding any health benefits to the pot, apart from just making the coffee more drinkable.
Now using salt in lieu of all the other additives not only eliminates empty calories but also replenishes your sodium levels. Studies have shown that by taking only 4 cups of coffee a day, you stand to lose 1200mg of sodium. The main component of salt is sodium, thus salt intake levels up your sodium level.
5. Reduces Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is one of the major problems that coffee lovers face. Light and medium roasted coffee are usually the most acidic, prompting coffee lovers to compromise between acidity and bitterness which tend to be worse at opposite extremes. Acidic coffee can be made less acidic by just adding a pinch of salt, thus reducing the need to go looking for coffee types that are known to be less acidic, such as Arabica.
How Much Salt Should You Add to Your Coffee?
When it comes to the quantities, there isn’t a determined formula or a rule to live by, so try different amounts per cup until you find one that gives you the right taste. For some, a pinch will do while others may start off with a little bit more than just a pinch.
The popular cookbook author Alton Brown recommends adding a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt to 6 teaspoons of coffee grounds to neutralize bitterness, reduce acidity and enhance sweetness.
Amounts also vary depending on the type of salt that you are using. Some salts are known to be saltier than others, and for such, you will have to use considerably less.
How to Add Salt to Your Coffee
You can add coffee to your grounds before brewing, or simply dash some to your steaming mug. Either way, both serve the same purpose and there are no known benefits of one process over the other. Some experts will advise you to add salt to your grounds, while others will say to do so after brewing. ‘Real experts’ who just love coffee will tell you that it really doesn’t matter. It just comes down to personal preferences though.
Disadvantages of Salted Coffee
While salt contains elements that are essential to our bodies, consuming too much of it is not good for your health. That’s why it’s important that you regulate salt intake to keep your body fluids and hormones in balance.
Also, if you are sensitive to sodium then you may not want to have salt in your coffee. An overall increase in sodium intake may trigger conditions such as inflammation of the stomach lining and heart-related issues. However, if you use regular salt in your other foods, then you shouldn’t worry about this.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does adding salt make coffee taste better?
Yes, adding a dash of salt to the coffee grounds before brewing helps to improve its taste.
Does Salt take the bitterness out of coffee?
Yes, id does! Putting salt into coffee prevents it from releasing calcium ion that sends a bitter signal to the brain. Therefore you don’t feel the bitterness in your freshly brewed coffee.
Does salt neutralize the acid in coffee?
Yes! Salt is known as an acid neutralizer. It will make your coffee less acid and it will also help you avoid reflux issues too. It’s very often added to coffee beans before roasting.
I agree, for many people, adding salt to coffee may not seem like a good idea at all, but after reading this article in its entirety, you should be convinced that salt in coffee is actually good for your health, apart from toning down the bitterness considerably. If your coffee always tastes bitter and hence the need to add large amounts of sweeteners every time to make it drinkable, then you are hurting yourself health-wise. A pinch of salt can help.
So, whether your bad coffee is a result of poor coffee making, a fault in the equipment, low-grade beans, or stale water, adding salt to your coffee is the easiest way to make it taste better every time and hence more drinkable.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to ditch your usual additives altogether. Sometimes all you need is just a pinch of salt into the coffee of your usual tastes. You don’t have to overhaul the way you take coffee just to introduce salt to it though.