To salt or not to salt

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When is the best time to salt a recipe?  Answer this question by making a recipe three ways: unsalted, salted before cooking, and salted after cooking.

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For a higher resolution, and more info about the poster at the top, go here: http://sciencefare.org/2011/06/01/tv-poster-maillard-reaction/.

collect

  • Salt
  • Other ingredients for a simple recipe (a simple vegetable recipe is recommended)

activity

  1. Chop up your vegetable you want to cook, and divide them into 3 equal portions. Also measure out how much salt you are going to add to each portion, making sure it's the same for each variation that needs salt (1-2 teaspoons should probably be enough).
  2. Cook your vegetables in 3 batches.  In the first batch, do not salt the vegetables.  In the second batch, salt the vegetable after you take them off of the heat.  In the third water, salt the vegetables as you start to cook them.  This could mean sprinkling salt over them as soon as you add them to a frying pan or steamer, or salting the water you boil them in.
  3. With your family or friends, do a side-by-side taste test of your three batches.  Do you notice a difference in taste and flavor between the different batches?

explore

 

People don't agree on when to add salt to a recipe.  Some simple google searching turned up conflicting results: some say you should always salt before cooking, some say always after, and some say it depends on what you are making.  Several articles in Cook's Illustrated argue that is generally better to salt most things before cooking, because you get better flavors as a result.  The idea is that salt does more than just add a salty flavor.  When we heat something, we cause chemical reactions to occur in the food, often turning it brown and producing flavor compounds.  Adding salt can change the type of chemical reactions that occur when you heat food. First, you've added a new chemical to the mix which may change the type of reactions that occur. Second, salt draws out water, which can effect the Maillard reaction, the main reaction that produces flavor compounds. Third, along with the water, salt draws out flavor compounds, exposing them to heat. Adding salt after you cook shouldn't produce new flavor compounds, but will still add a salty flavor and may draw out water and flavor.

 

Salt is clearly important to cooking, but when half of the cooks say you should salt before cooking and half say salt after, I tend to think the timing of salt probably isn't too important. Yes, salting makes a difference, but can you actually tell apart a dish that's been salted before or after cooking?

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