Tales of Taste #2: Winning the Taste Lottery
Updated: Mar 5, 2019
We get down to the nitty-gritty of salt and sugar.
You could say that salty/sweet has had it’s fifteen minutes in the last few years. It started simply, a little flaky sea salt on a bar of chocolate here, a salted caramel latte there, but the viral popularity of chocolate covered bacon (and the ensuing bacon + literally-anything-else-sweet trend) put this addictive combo on the map. Or back on the map, I should say, because as with many fads in the world of taste, this one goes back a lot farther than the latest craze would have you believe. In fact, it’s probably one of the most popular flavor combinations in history.
Scientists generally agree that our taste buds and brains developed to sense the five basic tastes we’re most sensitive to - salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami - as a survival mechanism. Food tasting “good” or “bad” was originally the only guide we had to help us eat the right things. Salt, for example, is a mineral necessary for our bodies to function, yet we have no way to store it (as we do with calcium in our bones) and cannot produce it ourselves. Put simply: salt tastes good to us because we need to eat it. We crave sweet foods for a similar reason. Sweetness is a signal for high caloric density. Caloric density = energy, so eating sweet foods made our brains respond as if we’d won the lottery - which, if you’re surviving on foraged food, isn’t far from the truth.