Ingredients guru, Pritesh Mody of World of Zing, explains how to best use salt in cocktails
The drinks industry often refers to bitters as the seasoning of the cocktail world, but that's a little short-sighted. Indeed, to really bring cocktails to life, bitters should be used with a pinch of salt, not instead of it.
With ever more bartenders turning to fresh produce and foodie ingredients in their concoctions, it’s essential to use salinity to balance drinks.
While there’s no shortage of the stuff, we still see generic table salt taking pride of place at bars around the country. You know that generic white, fine-powdered stuff that’s loaded with anti-caking agent and has about us much complexity as the cast of Geordie Shore. This is fine if you’re running a student bar that’s more interested in lining up cheap tequila shots than stirring down mezcal Old Fashioneds, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this CLASS if you were in the former camp.
The benefits of using salt can be incredibly pronounced – perhaps even more so than in culinary uses due to the higher concentration of flavours found in many classic cocktails. It may sound counter-intuitive, but research has shown salt to stimulate the tastebuds to suppress bitterness, while also enhancing sweetness and releasing more aroma. A great example of this juxtaposition of flavours working to create something exciting is salted caramel – it’s no coincidence that this bitter-sweet creation has become one of the most popular flavour combinations of our generation.
In terms of practical use, tequila is probably a good place to start. While salt and lime traditionally accompanied tequila to suppress the harsh and sour flavours in poor quality tequila, we are now blessed with a wealth of quality Mexican spirits. So instead of instantly killing your customer’s tastebuds with a thick rim of salt around your Margarita, throw a pinch of salt into the drink itself. I can guarantee the customer will thank you for giving them a drink that really brings the rich and complex notes of the tequila to life instead of blanketing them under a mouthful of harsh saltiness.
Also think about a pinch of salt in an Islay whisky or Penicillin cocktail – you’ll find a much more spritely aroma from the smoky whisky, while the flavour will also have a richer sweetness (think Morello cherries).
In terms of popular contemporary drinks, Espresso Martinis will also benefit from a pinch of ‘Na’. What, you haven’t got an expert barista to hand and your coffee is turning out too bitter? Whatever you do, don’t add more sugar – a pinch of salt is your friend here, where it will help to smooth out the flavour.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Sea salt vs rock salt: Rock salt will come from an underground mine, while sea salt is evaporated from the sea. There’s no real difference in quality here, although sea salt tends to be more expensive. Salt from different regions will have subtly different flavours, although as long as it’s pure, you can take your pick.
Himalayan pink salt: The purest salt on earth, with a distinctive pink hue and a more mineral taste than sea or rock salt.
Flakes vs granules: The most important consideration for bartenders is texture, so choosing correctly here is essential. If you’re going for a glass rim I would suggest flakes or finer granules – they tend to dissolve more readily as the cocktail flows over your tastebuds. Go for fine granules if you want to bind the drink together and, for bursts of salinity, use the larger granules.
Flavoured salts: These are a fun and easy way to jazz up cocktails, while providing customers with a unique talking point. We actually created a range of flavoured salts designed to complement cocktails, including a Chilli Cactus for tequila drinks, Coconut & Lime for Piña Coladas and Sriracha Chili Salt for Bloody Mary’s.