Why Salty and Sweet Are a Perfect Pair

sea salt caramels in chocolate

Salt and sweet are an amazing pairing.

That’s apparent to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a box of chocolate covered pretzels or secretly – or not so secretly – dunked their French fries into a milkshake.

And maybe after you were done that pretzel or that ice-cream-coated fry, you asked yourself the eternal question of the satisfied diner:

“Why does this taste so good?”

As a long-time supplier of candy in Bucks County, it’s a question that interests us, so we did some digging. Here’s what science tells us.

Flavor layers

chocolate covered pretzelsIn school, you might have learned that the tongue has five different sections, each to detect a different flavor: salty, sweet, sour, savory, bitter. We know the entire tongue can taste all five flavors at once. And each taste bud contains anywhere from 50 to 100 taste cells. Lighting up salty and sweet taste buds at once can be more impactful than just tasting one type of flavor.

But research released in 2011 by the Monell Chemical Sense Center found that sugar receptors previously thought to only exist in the stomach could also be found on the cells on the tongue.

There’s also the idea of a layering effect: when you combine one good taste with another good taste, you get a great taste.

As author and food developer Barb Stuckey told Gizmodo:

“We like sweet because it signals calories, or energy, to us. And we like salt because we need it for normal bodily function. We have no sodium storage system, as we do with other minerals (i.e. we store calcium in our bones), so Mother Nature’s solution is a built-in craving for it. The combination of these two positive biological responses is VERY pleasurable. To use an analogy, it’s akin to hearing beautiful music while sniffing rose petals: two positive sensory stimuli.”

Sensory specific satiety

Salty and sweet flavors also go well together because of something called “sensory specific satiety.”

As Debra Ronca writes on How Stuff Works:

“Because humans are omnivores, we’re wired to desire a variety of foods and tastes. Eventually we’ll tire of the same taste over and over again. If you constantly gorge yourself with sweets and only sweets, at some point you’ll lose your taste for them. The same goes for salty. However, with flavor layering, flavors meld together in your mouth without giving you a specific taste. By avoiding sensory specific satiety, salty/sweet tastes even better and keeps you coming back for more.”

Take it with a grain of salt

While some salt can make a sugary concoction taste even sweeter, too much salt mixed with sweetness can be an unpleasant combination.

Again, from Gizmodo:

“The explanation for this may lie in how salt interacts with the tongue’s other taste receptors. A recent study in Nature found that high-salt levels activate not only salt taste receptors, but also both bitter and sour taste receptors. So that “yuck” reaction to a cookie that’s too salty may be a reaction to the sudden sense of bitterness and sour in your mouth, too.”

If you’re looking for candy in Bucks County that mixes the salty and the sweet – or simply want to focus on your sweet tooth – visit Stutz. Our collection includes a few different chocolate and salt combinations, including:

Visit us online or at one of our stores to find the perfect combination of salty and sweet.