Posts Tagged ‘bitterness’

Norwegian egg coffee

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Egg coffee – a mild and refreshing drink that can be served warm as well as cold

I recently stumbled over “Norwegian egg coffee”. At first I thought it was a joke, but it turned out that this is indeed an “egg coffee” – coffee prepared with an egg! I have never heard about it here in Norway, but the fact that it’s popular among Americans of Scandinavian origin in the Midwest suggests that it could be something immigrants brought with them from Norway (feel free to fill me out on the historic origins of this!). I mentioned egg coffee to my mom, and although she had never heard of it before, she did mention that skin or swim bladders from fish were used when boiling coffee to help clearify it. In fact the Norwegian name for this – klareskinn – literally means “clearing skin”. The English name is isinglass (thank’s Rob!). Could it be that the fish skin originally used was replaced by eggs, perhaps due to a limited availability of fish in the Midwest? After all, both are good protein sources.

Eating fruit with salt

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Salt helps to bring out the flavor of watermelon

In Asia it is not uncommon to eat fruit with salt or even soy sauce. From my own experience, and via friends, I known that fruits such as mango, guava, honey dew melon, watermelon, nashi pears and papaya are eaten with salt. Interestingly salt is used both for ripe and unripe fruit – the latter is especially the case for mango and guava. With unripe fruit I can imagine that the primary motivation is reduction of bitterness. I’ve previously blogged about salt and coffee and how salt in tonic water reduces bitterness – the mechanisms are the same. In addition to the bitterness suppression low concentrations of salt will enhance sweet taste. [1] This would certainly be an advantage in unripe fruit. In ripe fruit there is hardly any bitterness left (or at least I presume that is the case), so here the salt may serve a different funtion. Could it be to balance the sweet taste and give a more savory and complex flavor? Perhaps it could also be explained as increased sensing by contrast amplification?

Testing salt in coffee with Tim Wendelboe

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

One of the good things about living in Oslo are the coffee bars. Norwegians drink a lot of coffe (a healthy dose of 9.9 kg anually per capita, only second to the Finnish) and perhaps that is one reason why there are so many coffee bars around. One of the best (if not the best) is Tim Wendelboe at Grünerløkka. Tim Wendelboe is a previous WBC champion (2004) who now owns a coffee bar and a micro roastery bearing his name. If you visit Oslo and the Grünerløkka area you should definitely walk the additional 200 m from the crowded “Kaffebrenneriet” at Olaf Ryes plass to his shop. And if you live outside Oslo you can buy freshly roasted coffee directly from his website and read more about his coffee adventures in his blog. If you read Norwegian you might also be interested in his recent book “Kaffe”. I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee from Tim Wendelboe, both in his shop and as beans at home on my Rancilio, and having finished my post “A pinch of salt for your coffee, sir?” I decided to send Tim an email and ask him about his experiences with salt and coffee. I got a very kind reply were he invited me to come and do some tests in his shop. Now that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse!

A pinch of salt for your coffee, Sir?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

A small sprinkle of salt will suppress bitterness – and in some cases it can benefit the overall coffee flavor. I’ve tried it with an espresso and somehow it works, but it’s difficult to describe the flavor.

I prefer my coffee black, and politely decline when offered milk and sugar. However, if offered salt I would probably smile and say “Yes, please!” Salt???! It turns out that adding salt to coffee is not as weird as it may sound at first. There is a tradition for adding a pinch of salt to coffee in Northern Scandinavia, Sibir, Turkey and Hungary. And when available, such as in coastal areas where fresh water from rivers mixes with the salt sea, one would simply use brackish water when preparing coffee. This water typically has a salt content of 0.5-3%, which is lower than the average 3.5% in seawater. This results in a more intense taste and more foaming. And if living far from the sea, the Swedish food blogger Lisa Förare Winbladh let me know that in Northern Sweden one would deliberately add salt if using melt water from glaciers for making coffee. But tradition aside, is there a scientific explanation of this widespread tradition of preparing coffee with addition of salt?

Suppression of bitterness

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

I received an email last week from a supertaster (read more: BBC, Wikipedia) with an interesting question: Certain foods contain bitter substances that only a fraction of the population can taste. Examples include a group of compounds called cucurbitacins, found in melon and cucumbers, and propylthiouracil in broccoli. The question was whether these compounds could be neutralized by any means.

A very simple chemical that neutralized/modifies bitter taste is salt – and the best thing is that you don’t have to be a supertaster to test this. For a simple experiment, take tonic water, taste it and then stir in some salt (start with 1/2 teaspoon). Taste it again – if you can still taste the quinine, add a little more salt. At one point the bitter taste has almost disappeared! This principle might work for cucumbers and melons as well, but of cource there could be totally different taste mechanisms responsible for the bittertaste in the two cases.

tonic water

It might sound strange to add salt, but in Asia, it is not uncommon to eat different fruits with salt. I am aware of unripe mangoes, guavas and honey dew melon are eaten with salt, a salty spice and soy sauce respectively. Also – some people add a small amount of salt to the water when brewing coffee – this reduces bitterness and rounds of the taste. One last example is how salty food can make a young red wine with plenty of tannins more pleasent to drink. Tannins (polyphenolic compounds) can be both astringent and bitter, depending on their molecular weight (low molecular weight tannins are predominantely bitter whereas larger molecules are more astringent).

BTW, this has also been treated scientifically. See for instance: Breslin, P. A. S; G.K. Beauchamp, “Suppression of Bitterness by Sodium: Variation Among Bitter Taste Stimuli” Chemical Senses 1995, 20, 609-623 (link).