What tastes better with salt on it?

Why does salt improve the taste of food?

Our brains are designed to consider food tastier when the special taste receptors (one of the six basic tastes) for salt are triggered. In a non-urban world, salt / sodium is a valuable nutrient. The fact that we may have it too readily available in developed countries doesn't change the fact that we'd die on a sodium-free diet (remember that animal products like meat aren't sodium-free and herbivores like to lick salt wherever they can find it it!). So our brains have a good evolutionary reason to like salt.

In addition, salt actively (negatively) interferes with another basic taste receptor - the receptor for bitterness (which can mean poison in both nature and the developed world, or at least something we have no use for, e.g. an alkali). Most aromatic foods (think green vegetables or spices) are bitter, and salt weakens and balances that perception, so the combined food is still desirable for our brains. In the end, you get an even tastier meal because you can rule out an aromatic (desirable) and the bitter (not always desirable) reaction.

Umami is another basic taste, probably related to the presence of protein (glutamate, inosinate, guanylate ... trigger it - these are amino acids or salts thereof and an indicator of the presence of easily digestible proteins).

Cindy

Good answer. Just wanted to add that as asked by the OP, there are other things available. An example would be potassium chloride, which is often sold as a salt substitute.

Gord Thompson

Also on other "flavor enhancers", monosodium glutamate (MSG) was the rock star flavor enhancer before it got a (now controversial) bad name ... and "umami" became "a thing".

Dougal 5.0.0

Yes, you have the MSG in front of me.

Rackandboneman

I wrote about umami to make it clear that it is very different, not to suggest that umami enhancers (e.g., amino acid salts * of alkali metals that went on sale this week) were similar to salt - they are Salt similar to vinegar. ------- * These are CHEMICAL salts, not GASTRONOMIC!

Agos

The Monosodium The amount of MSG makes it pretty close to salt