"…all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And, when we go back to the sea. . . we are going back to whence we came."
-John F. Kennedy
Why do we crave salt?
Even a little bit of salt suppresses bitterness, which in turn makes sweetness and sourness seem more intense. However, calling salt a flavor enhancer can be misleading – no clear physiological connection between salt and universal flavor enhancement has been found.
What we do know is that salt seems to boost certain basic tastes by suppressing others. Adding even a pinch of salt to a mixture tamps down its bitterness. Since that bitterness would otherwise be counteracting the drink's sweetness, adding salt enhances the perception of sweet flavors.
Furthermore, salt seems to intensify our perception of cocktails’ aromas, making their flavors seem more powerful. Additionally, even tiny amounts of salt increase the flow of saliva, which makes the drinks feel slightly richer and thicker.
Salt is effective at busting bitterness even if it’s present in such small concentrations that you can’t tell it’s there. At these levels, the ingredient has a bonus effect: enhancing sourness. Many bartenders have begun adding a few drops of saline solution to citrusy drinks to enhance or brighten the flavor. But be careful – add too much and the cocktail’s acidity will also be suppressed.
For the beloved margarita, adding a small amount of salt screens out the slight bitterness of the Cointreau or triple sec. At the same time, it also heightens the taste of the lime juice and softens the tequila’s bite.