If you think that the words salary, soldier and salt have nothing in common, you’d better keep on reading. In ancient times, salt was difficult to obtain, making it a scarse and expensive commodity. It was a highly valued trade item and was considered a form of currency by certain peoples.
It makes total sense that the word salary comes from the Latin word “salarium”, which literally means “salt money”. And since Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt, it is said to be for this reason that we get the word soldier from “sal dare”, which means “to give salt”.
Does the preciousness of salt ring a bell?
Cacao had pretty much the same value among Mesoamerican populations. To the point that cacao beans were even employed as ready cash! Among the Aztecs of Nicaragua, you could buy a rabbit for 10 cacao beans, a slave for 100 or the services of a prostitute for 8. Whenever they enjoyed their chocolate beverages, they were literally drinking money.
Thousands of years later, salt and cacao find themselves together in the most mouth watering chocolate creations from all over the world.
Why do salt and chocolate pair so well together?
Combining salt and chocolate is no ‘Latest Trend’
If inclusions like turmeric and matcha come and go, chocolate makers and chocolatiers won’t stop adding salt to their chocolate any time soon. You can be sure that you will always find a Sea Salt bar in their assortments. This is because salt works wonders with chocolate, and there are several reasons why:
1) Salt is a sugar detector.
Ever wondered why “a pinch of salt” is always added in dessert recipes? It would seem counterproductive, but it’s not. Paradoxically, salt intensifies the body’s ability to taste the sweetness in the sugar.
When sodium is present, sensors located in our intestines and on our tongue that normally don’t alert to sugar process glucose as sweet. To be more specific, an intestinal glucose sensor known as SGLT1 starts moving glucose into the sweet taste receptor cells when sodium is present, thus triggering the cells to register sweetness. The result is that salt not only alerts our ‘salt sensitivity’, but also triggers a reaction with our ‘sweet sensitive’ taste buds to make them more receptive to sweet flavors. It’s like a second sugar detector is being signaled that you’re eating something sugary.
That pinch of salt enhances tastes and makes flavors “pop”, giving life and energy to the simplest recipes. Most sweet foods, desserts or baked goods will have some amounts of salt added for this purpose. Our beloved chocolate is no exception. With the addition of salt, a fuller chocolate flavor comes up and all the intrinsic flavors are faster brought to the surface to be enjoyed.
2) Salt adds texture and flavor.
Crunchiness often makes chocolate more intriguing (depending on personal taste, of course). A coarser or grainier texture can be the secret to revive a flat chocolate, or to bring a wonderful one to glory. When chocolate professionals add salt to their creations, they can do it for two reasons:
to make the chocolate taste “pop”.
to actually taste the salt in the chocolate.
In the first case, salt has a supportive role more than being the protagonist. For this purpose, the choice is usually a finer salt whose grains are tiny and almost imperceptible. The result is a slightly grainy texture that doesn’t interfere too much with the smoothness of the chocolate. In the second case, salt is an integrated part of the recipe and has the same importance of all the other ingredients. For this purpose, the choice is usually a specialty salt that brings its own texture and flavor to the table. The crystals are larger to give a salty crunch and taste to the chocolate, and the result is grainier chocolate where salt can be detected at first sight.
In either cases, professionals need to be careful with the quantity they use. Too little, and they don’t get the benefits. Too much, and all they taste is salt. Rule of thumb: balance. Saltiness shouldn’t pass unnoticed, neither overpower the rich chocolate flavor.
3) Salt contrasts sweetness.
Although a “pinch of salt” can be used to enhance sweetness, a more substantial amount of salt can be useful to actually contrast the sweetness of a chocolate creation. Let’s be aware that cacao is not sweet itself. Even the most fruity and floral cacao is still considered to be “bitter” by most palates. What salt can help to contrast is the sweetness of sugar and other sweet inclusions. With ingredients like caramel, milk, vanilla or dried fruits, it’s easy to reach an overwhelming level of sweetness fast. By adding salt in this kind of inclusion bars, chocolate professionals ensure that the sweet ingredients are kept at bay thanks to the sodium. This sweet-and-salty contrast can also bring to life innovative chocolate creations that challenge the limits of our palates.
Like it or not, salt and chocolate is like bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly, cheese and wine. That kind of pairing that will never go out of style.