Salt

This is the first in a series of posts about the ZiNG! and the basic elements that make up the ZiNG! approach to pairing food and wine.

Salt is everywhere, probably in too many places.

Salt is one of our five basic tastes, classified as appetitive – meaning it stimulates our appetite, increasing our desire to eat it, which is why it is so frequently used in seasoning. Evolution helped us develop a fondness for salt because it is essential to life. All living creatures use salts to regulate the water content of their body and the sodium is used for electrical signaling in the nervous system. We won’t get far without salt, we cannot, and should not, avoid it.

When it comes to food, salt may not be dominant in a dish (unless the chef has been over-zealous with the seasoning), but there are foods where salt is naturally dominant. Foods such as cured meats, hard cheeses, seafood and shellfish. They all have a salt undertone to them.

So let’s try an experiment. Find a couple of wines, one a high acidic wine such as a Pinot Gris, and a low acid wine such as a California Chardonnay. The wines don’t have to be expensive, just try to avoid the very low end of the market where the wines are dominated by sweetness. You’ll only need a glass of each for this experiment so you can always do it in a wine bar. Take a sip of each wine to make sure that the wines taste OK and there’s nothing wrong with them.

Next, get some ordinary table salt, again no need for fancy sea salts because their extra elements are not significant, wet your finger and dip it into the salt. You don’t need a lot so don’t go overboard, you want to simulate a salty dish and not be unpleasant. Once you’ve changed the salinity in your mouth, take a sip of the high acidic wine and notice how the wine tastes.

  1. Is it still acidic?
  2. Is it still balanced?
  3. Has the wine been compromised by the salt?
  4. Was the wine better by itself?
  5. Was the food better by itself?

Now repeat the experiment with the low acid wine – you will need to taste a bit more salt before drinking. After sipping the wine, ask yourself the same questions again.

With luck you should notice one wine compliments the salt and tastes nice, what we call a ZiNG!, and one wine will taste completely different, a noticeable degradation and unpleasantness, a pairing that you really want to avoid. Notice that all we did between tasting the wine by itself and in the presence of food was to add a single chemical, salt, sodium chloride, but that was enough to modify the chemistry in our mouth. There was nothing wrong with the wine, and yet a small change in the environment completely changed our perception.

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