Photos by Cara DiFabio, Words by Kiersten Utegg
My father always said that there are two ways to live. You can live to eat or you can eat to live. Food is an important part of our family traditions so we all tend to lean on the “live to eat” side, as do many others. I have tasted many different flavors, combinations, and textures and have learned that, if prepared well, anything can be good. Despite the variety of tastes available to us, there are two flavors that are craved the most among humans: salty and sweet.
There is such a strong attraction between these two flavors that often drive our love of food. I have these cravings as much as the next person, and over the years I have finalized two intriguing observations of this phenomenon:
1) Balance of Flavor
Sweet and Salty go so well together. I am not a big cook myself but I have baked cookies and brownies and cakes and not once have a come across a recipe that didn’t include the option of adding a pinch of salt. Then you have the example of trail mix with M&Ms, peanut butter and jelly, salted caramel, chocolate covered pretzels; the list could go on and on. In asking myself why this could be, I came across one scientific explanation that makes sense. Salt could very well encourage the reaction that our taste buds have to sweet flavors. The reaction that occurs in our mouths when we eat something salty and when we eat something sweet have overlapping factors that boost each other up. This similarity makes the flavors “pop” even more. It could also be that humanity on its own simply discovered the best partnership in the world.
2) Sensory-specific satiety
When I consume something salty I always crave something sweet afterwards and vice versa. Why is that? It turns out that the answer is actually quite simple: opposites attract (sort of). In essence, sweet foods and salty foods serve two separate appetites. This phenomenon is referred to as sensory-specific satiety, which means that you can eat as much sweet food and only feel full of sweets, causing you to crave something salty to serve your other appetite. This is why we crave the opposite taste so desperately. One appetite ignites our alternate appetite until we are satiated—one large vicious cycle.
If you are wondering how to combat these tasty cravings, my advice is do not deprive yourself of one or the other. We all need a little bit of salt and sugar in our lives so don’t restrict yourself too much! Try eating fewer extremely salty or fewer extremely sweet foods. For example, try substituting fruit for ice cream, nuts for chips, etc. I advocate for allowing yourself to indulge in an intensely sweet or salty treat on occasion, just watch out for the habit and cycle it can so easily incite.
Taking your knowledge of the love affair between salty and sweet, go forth and embrace this amazing combination. Salty and sweet are simply meant to be together.