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Why Do Cookies Taste Better With Salt? And Other Cooking Questions


What's the deal with a little bit of extra salt making sweet things taste even sweeter? We're talking about baking and food with Molly Birnbaum, host the podcast Mystery Recipe and editor of America's Test Kitchen Kids.

Download our learning guide: PDF | Google Slide|Transcript


"Why do we need salt to make sweet cookies?" - Duncan, 4

In this episode: Why does food taste better with salt? Why do we need salt to make sweet things like cookies? Why do seasonings taste good in food but not so much on their own? Why are marshmallows soft? Why do egg whites go from clear to white when they're cooked? How are expiration dates determined?

"In so many bakeries, you'll see chocolate cookies with salt on top or sweets with salt on top or as part of the recipe," Birnbaum says. In her new podcast, Mystery Recipe, Birnbaum and some lucky Test Kitchen kids tried an experiment to see what adding a little salt to the top of a cookie actually does to its taste. They made two identical batches of cookies and sprinkled one with salt and didn't add salt to the other one, and then tasted them side by side.

"Our kid recipe testers told us that the salted cookies tasted sweeter even though all the cookies had the same amount of sugar," Birnbaum told But Why.

There is a scientific explanation for that.

"One of salt's superpowers is that it makes sweet things taste sweeter and it does this by preventing you from tasting bitter. When you're eating your taste buds send messages to your brain about the tastes they detect in your mouth. In general the more bitter a food is, the less sweet your brain tells you it tastes, but salt blocks our taste buds from detecting that bitterness. If you detect more bitter your brain detects what you're eating as sweete.,"

Listen to the full episode to find out why marshmallows are soft and why egg whites turn white when you cook them.

Check out Mystery Recipe

Read the full transcript

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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