Chemistry … down at your local!

Ever wondered how to really annoy a chef? One sure-fire way is to start adding salt before you’ve even tasted it! Any chef worth his salt, as they say, will have tasted and seasoned his dish so that it is just the way it should be by the time it is presented to you. And if, after tasting, you felt the need to add a sprinkling of salt, no offence would be taken.

The science of how salt works on food has to do with how it acts on the set of five primary tastes the tongue can detect (salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami). Salt has also been shown to suppress the bitter taste – which probably explains why salt is used when taking tequila shots! But if you’re running a restaurant in Mexico City the faith you have in how well your chef seasons the food is now critical because from April 4th the over 200 000 pubs and restaurants will no longer provide salt shakers on the tables. If this move was applied in the UK, Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers would have one less item to have to factor in to their planning and logistics as they help clients operate efficiently. It would be a tragedy to have a pub with no beer, but a pub with no salt shakers? Or brown sauce bottles? Mind you, the chefs would be ecstatic.

The Mexicans have introduced the no-salt-shaker zone in the interests of health. Apparently the amigos have been overdoing things when it comes to salt intake and has nothing to do with appeasing the ire of the chef community. The recommended daily intake of salt is 5mg per day (according to the World Health Organisation) and the Mexicans have been spooning in a whopping 12mg on average. The leading cardiologist at the Siglo III Medical Centre believes that by just removing the shakers from the table it will reduce the daily salt intake by 50%. I suppose he is basing his premise on what has become a habit at meal times – if it’s there, use it.

The good news for anyone holidaying there soon is that the restaurants will be allowed to offer salt to their patrons, it just won’t be standard issue on the table.

De Dorf Krug skol

Those who enjoy having a bit of a shake at the table will tell you that it adds to the enjoyment of their food. And isn’t that why people go out to eat – to have an enjoyable and pleasant time? This whole issue on taste and its effects also brought some more interesting news in regard to beer. Scientists (the blokes who told us about the dangers of too much salt) have said that beer cheers us up. They tell us that the taste releases dopamine that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. So even without the effect of the alcohol, just the taste of beer (even the non-alcoholic variety) will give a pleasurable feeling.

I wonder if Heston is working on a beer-flavoured-low-salt potato chip? It could be a hit.