Prosciutto and melon.
French fries with ketchup. And of course the legendary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
It happens when salt and sugar form an unsteady alliance; distinct and unblended but properly balanced.
Lately we have spotted salt sneaking its way into more and more desserts. Of course salt has always had a place in baking– a small amount acts as a preservative, aids browning, and brings flavors into focus. Forget to add salt to bread or a pie crust and it can end up tasting like cardboard. But this new breed of desserts features salt in a more prominent role. The salt content is higher, and it might even dust the top of a cake or a chocolate truffle like powdered sugar.
Salted desserts are nothing new in other cultures. There are salted Chinese egg custards, Iranian salted watermelon, and salty Dutch licorice. Not coincidentally, sugar and salt are both simple substances that have treated palates since prehistoric times. Modern techniques have evolved for harvesting and processing, but traditional, even ancient methods, still bring much of our sugar and salt to the table.
The current salty sweets trend in the U.S. goes back about years ago when French fleur de sel caramels burst onto the candy scene. The candy came to us from the Brittany region of France, an area known for both abundant dairy production and locally harvested salt, where there’s logically a long-standing tradition of combining the two in salted caramels. The added salt helps to bring out the browned butter flavor and balances the overwhelming sweetness that is typical of caramel. Brittany caramels first captured the attention of chefs who found that its complex, nuanced flavors took well to a variety of treatments. Salted caramels have since found their way into the mainstream with salted caramel products like Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Starbucks cocoa, and Wal-Mart store brand chocolate truffles.
Sweet tooth or salt tooth? Why should you have to choose?