Salt complements the rich flavour of chocolate and brings out the complexity of the flavour. Salt is used to bring out the flavour, to contrast the sweetness in chocolate and to sharpen our taste buds.
I’ve been making chocolate for the last 22 years and salt has always been my ‘secret’ ingredient! To find out exactly how and why to use salt when chocolate making, carry on reading…
Why does chocolate taste better with salt?
If you’ve attended one of my chocolate making courses, you are not going to be surprised by today’s blog post!
No matter whether we are making chocolate truffles, filled pralines, chocolate bars or flavoured chocolates, there is always a small salt dish around as one of the ‘ingredients’.
I love how my students are surprised when if they are not quite sure how to finish their chocolate ganache flavouring, I suggest adding a few grains of salt in! Suddenly what tasted ‘fine’ tastes ‘amazing’ and the only difference is a tiny amount of salt! So, how is this possible?
How our taste buds react to salt
The reason is that salt sharpens all the flavours in the chocolate and brings them together. If you feel that your chocolate ganache flavour is a bit bland you could add more flavouring, but it’s worth adding a few grains of salt first to see whether that will do the trick. It usually does!
Salt plays with our taste buds, because it helps us to taste sweet flavours (like chocolate) a bit better. The sodium in salt helps our taste buds to feel more alert, which makes us to taste all flavours a little bit sharper.
Our taste buds are developed so that they can recognise different flavours (in different parts of our tongue): sweet, sour, salty, bitter and unami.
There are also highly sensitive buds that can only taste sweetness when salt (the sodium) reacts with them. It’s like a chemical reaction in your mouth!
The salt will make your tongue taste ‘salty’, but it also hightenes any sweetness, which until then might have tasted a bit bland (or you might have not been able to taste it at all!).
You will think like this is some sort of top secret, until you realise, that most food manufacturers of course know this, which is why we have salt in our breakfast cornflakes!
Salt acts as a neutraliser for any bitter flavour
Have you ever had a very high cocoa solids chocolate (say over 70% cocoa solids) and you thought, that the chocolate was too bitter?
The chocolate bitterness depends on partly where the chocolate grows, but also how it’s roasted and further processed.
Adding a tiny amount of salt into chocolate helps to neutralise the bitterness which might come from the chocolate. When such chocolate melts in your mouth, suddenly it tastes much more pleasantly, because the salt blocked the bitterness to some extent.
Salt sharpens bland chocolate flavours
This might surprise you, but sugar (as part of chocolate) is actually a very bland flavour. Try to taste a bit of white sugar on it’s own and I’m sure you are not going to enjoy it!
To make the sugar more exciting you can add some flavouring, such as orange flavouring. This will make the sugar flavour more interesting, but it’s still going to be a fairly bland orange sugar flavour. But add a tiny bit of salt and the flavours suddenly will come together!
The sweeter the chocolate is, the more noticeable it will be to taste the same flavoured or even plain chocolate with and without salt. This is why you’d add a bit of salt to any chocolate cake batter as it helps to enhance the flavour and the chocolate comes through beautifully.
Salt is also great to enhance flavour of chocolate icing, which is why I always using when I’m making my chocolate cupcakes recipe.
One of my most favourite chocolate truffle fillings is a sharp zingy Lemon & White chocolate ganache, which is only perfect when you add a tiny pinch of salt.
A small amount of salt will also make milk chocolate taste even yummier and somehow more creamier and richer. My students and customers often comment on how our milk chocolate ganache tastes really good and think it’s a very special kind of recipe.
Well, it sort of is and it isn’t because the only real secret there (apart from fresh double cream and good quality chocolate – of course!) is….and yes, you have guest it….. a tiny pinch of salt!
How to use salt when making hot chocolate, chocolate milk shakes and chocolate smoothies
In the same way I add tiny amount of fine salt to my chocolate bars and chocolate truffles, I also add a tiny amount to chocolate drinks.
Next time when you make your hot chocolate try to add tiny (only few grains) amounts of fine salt in and see whether you’ll taste any difference. I can pretty much guarantee, you will be able to tell, that they hot chocolate taste so much better and richer with a tiny amount of salt, than without it.
When I’m making my breakfast smoothies or breakfast chocolate porridge, I add only a small amount of any kind of sugar or fruit, but I always add a tiny amount of salt. Even if you don’t add any sugar, the natural sweetness of milk is enhanced more with a tiny pinch of salt.
Salt brilliantly contrasts the sweetness of the chocolate (or other sugar sweets), which is why I usually add some in. I’m only adding such a small amount that if I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know that there is any salt in!
For example you can make Salted Caramel to make it fairly salty, so that you can actually taste the salt, but I normally add salt into a regular caramel as it sharpens the flavour and makes the caramel less dull.
Adding salt to chocolate, so that you can actually taste the saltiness
So far, I’ve been telling you about adding a tiny amount of salt, only to enhance the flavour of chocolate ganache or flavoured chocolates. But you can of course add more in to make the chocolate bar or the filling taste more savoury and salty.
Salt works great with herb and spicy flavours and very sweet fillings such as caramel or peanut butter or praline.
The difference between adding fine salt (to dissolve) or sea salt (to stay whole)
My basic rule on this is, that if I’m just enhancing the flavour and sharpening all the elements of the flavour I add fine salt (ideally dissolved in oil/water) so that the salt just blends in. I don’t necessarily want to ‘taste’ the salt, I just need enough to sharpen the flavour.
When I want to contrast the sweetness of the chocolate, for example like when I’m making salted caramel truffles I use sea salt (with a fairly large salt flakes).
This way the salt doesn’t dissolve in the chocolate or the salted caramel, but stays whole. This gives you a completely different experience, where the salt is separate from the sweet and only mixes in right at the end.
This is a perfect combination (in my humble opinion…) which avoids the strange taste of too salty sweets which could taste a tad sickly.
Adding salt as a texture
Salt also works great as a texture, by staying whole in the chocolate (especially if you are using sea salt flakes) and then melting away in your mouth in concentrated amounts and then mixing with the rest of the chocolate. A perfect combination, if you ask me!
Chocolate flavour combinations, that I often make
Lime & Sea Salt Chocolate Bar (in a dark chocolate – over 50% is preferable, but try 85% and the flavour will be even more amazing!)
Peanut Butter & Sea Salt in Milk Chocolate Bar (use 30% cocoa solids milk chocolate with peanut butter and sea salt flakes – ad only few to compliment the peanut butter, but don’t make it too salty).
Smoked Sea Salt & Chilli Flakes Dark Chocolate Bar (try really dark chocolate for this, as the smoked flavour sea salt will really come through nicely. I usually choose the smoked sea salt as the ‘main flavour’ and then complement it with the chilli flakes. You can use mild powdered chilli if you like, that works well too).
How to add salt to chocolate to make healthier chocolate
People always ask me how I resist eating chocolate when I make chocolate most days and work with it all the time.
Yes, it could be sometimes disadvantageous to work with food all the time, which is why I like to develop chocolate recipes that are on a healthier side and stop me from diving into a tub of milk chocolate spread with a spoon!
One of my favourite combinations is a very dark chocolate (say 85% cocoa solids) which contains only very little sugar and smoked sea salt flakes. Sometimes I add a bit of white pepper for warmness.
Apparently, when we are stressed we crave salt (it’s the sodium, that helps our brain to calm down and focus) and at the same time we want comforting sweet food, that will fill us up. When you have cravings at 4 pm, you never want to reach out for a healthy salad, do you?
By making my chocolate with real cocoa butter (the good fat, that keeps the body’s energy topped up), high cocoa solids, not a lot of sugar and salt, I have the ultimate snack, that helps me to focus and carry on, without draining my energy (which is what a sugary doughnut would have done!).
So, next time when you see my sweets and chocolate recipes, and you’ll notice they have a tiny amount of salt in them, you will know why!
What type of salt is best to use with chocolate?
This very much depends on what you are trying to achieve, so here are my favourite combinations.
Fine cooking salt – best if you want the salt to dissolve and blend in and best for adding to chocolate to achieve better flavour overall, but not to make the chocolate salty e.g. solid chocolate bars, hot chocolate, chocolate smoothies, chocolate ganache etc.
Sea Salt Flakes – best for when you want the salt to stay in whole and to add crunch and texture to your chocolate – best for salted caramels, peanut butter, solid chocolate bars
Flavoured sea salts (smoked sea salt, herbs sea salt etc) – depends on what flavour you want to achieve
Himalayan salt – has extra minerals than regular salt, so it’s perfect for chocolate smoothies, healthy chocolate bars, hot chocolate etc.
How much salt do you need to add to chocolate?
This is a completely personal thing, but I still stay on the side of caution and add less to what most recipes suggest.
This is because I want the salt to just enhance the overall flavour of my chocolate, but not overpower it. This is one of the main reasons why I use sea salt flakes in my salted caramels and not fine salt (which dissolves and then the caramel can taste sickly sweet).
If you are not sure about adding salt to your chocolate (either drinks, truffles or chocolates), try only few grains first, then take a sip of water and then taste the chocolate.
If the flavour is not as sharp or well rounded as you’d hoped for, add tiny bit more salt, have another sip of water and then try again.
You’ll soon find your own threshold at which point, you will know that level of salt is the best for you. Once you know, you can just add in the salt next time straight, because you’ll know the quantity you need.