Why You Should Consider Adding Salt Water To Some Cocktails

There is something very special that happens when you take a sip of a margarita with salt on the rim. The margarita's flavor — inherently sweet and tangy — gets a boost from the salt, but is also somehow tempered by the salt. If you're the kind of person who enjoys a salted rim, you know the experience of wanting more of that salty flavor with each sip of the drink and there is real science behind why this experience is so special.

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there are additional sugar receptors called SGLT1 on the tongue's sweet-taste cells and these cells are only activated by the presence of salt. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer, according to this study published by the NIH National Library of Medicine, so when you combine it with sweet, it not only enhances the sweet flavor, but also creates a more layered flavor.

This is commonplace in dessert recipes, from salted caramel sauce to salted chocolate cookies. We add salt to the mix when baking to enhance the flavors of the other ingredients and cocktails are king when it comes to layered flavors. So, could using salt in this way apply to mixology too?

Nature's flavor enhancer

A salted rim for a cocktail is not a new idea. As previously mentioned, it's a classic way to order a margarita. But what about salt inside a drink? Turns out it's not so far-fetched of an idea. According to PunchDrink, bartenders and mixologists are now experimenting with adding a salt tincture (10 parts distilled water to one part kosher salt) or salted simple syrup to their cocktails.

The idea is that with playing with the levels of salt you actually turn down the tongue's receptiveness to bitterness, so you can temper a drink that is inherently bitter like a Manhattan. While salt has the ability to mellow out bitter flavors, it also enhances sweet and sour flavors. Citrus-heavy drinks taste brighter while drinks topped with Champagne become a bit sharper.

Eater notes that some bartenders are using a saline tincture in place of citrus or bitters because it achieves the same level of flavor layering as it activates the saliva glands, literally making the drinker's mouth water. 

Next time you're making cocktails for friends or family, experiment by adding a few drops of salt tincture. If you feel nervous about the ratio, try making a tiny sample for yourself first.