Why people are adding salt into their coffee

Why People Are Adding Salt to Their Coffee: Science Behind This Trend

Last Updated on May 3, 2023 by Timothy Byron Smith

When it comes to adding something to coffee, most people opt for sugar or cream to offset the bitterness. However, a “hack” that’s circulating on social media, especially Tiktok and YouTube suggests adding a pinch of salt instead. While it may seem strange, there is actually a scientific basis for this coffee quirk.

Key Takeaways:

  • Coffee bitterness results from the roasting process, which forms compounds like chlorogenic acid lactones, and phenylindanes.
  • Salt has been used to reduce the bitterness of foods like eggplant and Brussels sprouts.
  • In Vietnam, salty coffee is often combined with condensed milk for a delicious caramel flavor.
  • The Swedish tradition of adding salted meat or cheese to coffee is called “kaffeost.”
  • If you prefer your coffee sweet or milky, you can still use sugar or milk to suppress bitterness.

Sodium chloride, or table salt, is an effective suppressant of bitterness in coffee and other types of food. This ability has been attributed to salt’s widespread use as a cooking ingredient throughout human history. By suppressing bitterness, salt allows other flavors, such as sweetness or umami, to come forward and be enjoyed.

The science behind this effect has to do with the taste receptors on our tongues. The salt receptor, or epithelial sodium channel (ENaC), is sensitive to sodium chloride. Meanwhile, bitter taste receptors, belonging to a family known as TAS2Rs, are sensitive to bitter compounds.

Research from 1995 demonstrated that salt is effective at masking bitterness. When sweet and bitter compounds were mixed, adding salt made the mixture taste sweeter and less bitter. However, this suppression does not go both ways; bitter compounds do not suppress the taste of salt.

It’s still unclear how the suppression works, but recent research on mice has shown that high concentrations of salt can trigger sour and bitter receptors. This is thought to be due to the unpleasant taste of consuming too much salt at once.

Despite this, adding a small pinch of salt can go a long way in reducing coffee bitterness. This is especially useful in situations where the coffee has been over-extracted and burnt. In fact, places around the world, such as Vietnam and Sweden, commonly add salt to coffee to enhance its flavor.


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♬ Quirky – Oleg Kirilkov

It’s worth noting that adding salt to coffee is not a new phenomenon. During and after World War II, the US Navy drank coffee with salt since their desalination equipment wasn’t entirely effective, and the salt helped with the bitterness. In Sweden, an Arctic coffee tradition involves adding salted meat or cheese to coffee.

If you’re interested in trying this hack, start with a small pinch of salt and adjust accordingly. However, if you’re watching your sodium intake, rest assured that sugar and milk have also been found to be effective at suppressing bitterness.

In conclusion, adding salt to coffee isn’t just another social media trend; it’s a time-honored method for enhancing flavor. By suppressing bitterness, salt allows other flavors to come to the forefront and be enjoyed.

So go ahead, add a pinch of salt to your next cup of coffee, and taste the difference for yourself!

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