Why You May Want to Sprinkle Salt (Not Sugar) on Your Grapefruit

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Many of us consider grapefruit’s natural granular mate to be sugar. But it seems generations of Americans were more inclined to pair their grapefruit with another easy-to-sprinkle crystal: salt.

In fact, in a post on NPR’s The Salt blog (which is not, of course, a blog only about salt), science historian Nadia Berenstein dubs grapefruit and salt an “unlikely power couple,” noting that during much of the 20th century marketers linked the two, claiming the latter was capable of making the former taste sweeter.

While the arranged marriage may have had much to do with circumstance (sugar rationing during wartime and all that), it also has some good science behind it, Berenstein notes. She explains as follows:

Because the ions in salt block some of the taste receptors in our tongue, salt may diminish our ability to detect bitterness, making food taste sweeter. On a cognitive level, Berenstein says, “bitterness and sweetness inhibit each other.” Consequently, “the more bitter something tastes, the less sweet we perceive it to be, and vice versa.” What’s more, salt may chemically alter a “watery food” such as grapefruit, helping to render airborne “volatile molecules” and thus making them easier to breathe in as the fruit’s fragrance. And of course smell is a big part of taste.

Salting fruit is common in many parts of the world, Berenstein writes. She suggests that, although salting grapefruit has fallen out of favor in the sugar-obsessed U.S., loading the foods we eat with high-cal sweeteners is falling out of favor, and grapefruit and salt may be “ripe for a reunion.”

May be worth giving it a fair shake, anyway.

And hey, here’s a recipe that tops grapefruit with both sugar and salt — who says you can’t have it all?

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