Once upon a time, salt was one of the most highly valued commodities in the ancient world. Its production was restricted, so it became a symbol of trade and currency. The value was so high that there are certain words, like ‘salary’ that are in fact derived from the Latin word for salt.
Additionally, the word salad is also derived from the word salt, as it became highly fashionable in Roman times to salt your leafy greens, but I digress…
Salt has always been the staple of the kitchen, only occasionally creeping in behind the bar to rim a glass or accessorise a shot.
But recently bartenders across the globe have been seen throwing a dash from an unmarked bitters bottle into every cocktail they make. That dash? Saline solution. Now you might think that adding salt to your cocktails would make them, well, salty. But interestingly that’s not the case.
In fact, you are about to learn why salt was so highly prized. As any cook will tell you, when salt is added, a certain magic happens. And that is just as true behind the bar as behind the stove.
Take It With A Pinch Of Salt
Now you might be used to salt around the edge of your Margarita and the effects that it creates on that drink, but we’re not talking about a chunky salt rim.
When put to the test, you may in fact notice that salt can have the effect of making drinks appear softer and fruitier in taste – and yet when not added, those same drinks may appear more bitter and intense. So, What does this mean? It means that salt is not about achieving a salty taste but, instead, about amplifying the flavours that you already have.
You see, our palates can detect five different flavours: salt, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. Depending on the drink, a low concentration of salt can actually help to control or reduce bitter flavours or alternatively, amplify sweet and sour ones.
If we were more scientific, we might say that salt blocks the palate’s ability to sense bitterness, making sweetness or sourness more perceptible … but we’re not really that scientific … so let’s move on …
Salt Of The Earth
What we will say is that the effect that salt has on a drink will ultimately depend on the other ingredients that you mix it with.
In other words, citrus becomes brighter, drinks with egg white become more aromatic, and drinks topped with sparkling wine get just that little bit sharper.
In stirred drinks, salt has an interesting automatic quality. It frees up the aromatic molecules, which can then be released into the air once the drink is stirred. Ultimately this makes both the aroma quality and the flavour of the cocktail more available.
In long drinks, the combination of salt and carbonation means that you can achieve double the impact with flavour. Basically, carbonation and salt both act as flavour centres, controlling how flavour hits your taste buds.
In shaken drinks, salt, of course, brightens the citrus, but if added to drinks shaken with egg white, the flavour gets compounded as the salt gives structure to the whites themselves. It could be said that salt allows flavours in a drink to taste a lot more like themselves.
But before you get too enthusiastic, remember that salt (like any seasoning) should be used judiciously – quantity matters. Too much salt actually dulls acidity.
Yet if used well, Salt can temper some of the bitterness in a Negroni, play up the citrus in a Daiquiri, and down-play the bittiness of Tonic in a G&T.
Salt & Other Solutions
Whether you use it as a saline solution or perhaps add it to your simple syrup, the addition of salt can play beautifully in any cocktail mix to turn flavours either up or down.
But how do you make a saline solution? And how much salt should you add to your Simple Syrup?
When it comes to Simple Syrup, we’re not talking about adding much salt to the mix to get the desired effect. While we would encourage you to experiment, why not start with 1g of salt per 200ml of syrup. Once it is made, use the Syrup as you normally would.
To make a good Saline Solution, add 0.75 oz of salt to 3.5oz of boiling water in a heat proof container and stir until the salt has dissolved. Allow to cool and transfer to an eye dropper or dasher bottle.
If you want to see the effect that salt really can have on your drinks, then why not play with the Reverse Clover Club recipe below
Inverse Clover Club
- 1.25 oz Dry Vermouth
- 0.75 oz Shiraz Gin (as produced by Four Pillars)
- 0.75 0x Lemon Juice
- 0.25 Rich SimpleSyrup (2:1)
- 4 Raspberries
- Egg White
- dash of Saline Solution
Combine all ingredients without ice in a cocktail shaker and dry shake. Add ice and shake again, before straining into a chilled coupe glass and garnishing with Raspberries